FAMILIES are being urged to agree to organ donation requests after it was revealed that a high number of relatives are refusing to back the life-saving initiative.
According to the Public Health Agency (PHA), 38% of families in Northern Ireland refuse to give permission for doctors to remove organs from a loved one who has died and who had already registered as a donor. This compares with a refusal rate of 15% in countries such as Spain.
A campaign being backed by the PHA encourages families to spend time discussing the issue. An Organ Donation Discussion Day has already taken place, but people are being urged to continue thinking about not only about joining the donor register but also making their wishes clear their families.
Around 200 people here are currently awaiting life-saving transplants, but officials say an average of 15 lives are lost each year because suitable organs cannot be found in time.
Support for donations
The PHA says the high refusal rate in Northern Ireland exists despite findings which show as many as 84% of people support the principle of organ donation.
Research has also found that a common reason for families refusing to agree to a relative’s organs being donated was because they had been unaware of their loved one’s wishes.
Dr. Eddie Rooney, chief executive of the Public Health Agency, said the campaign was aimed at bringing about behavioural change: “Research has shown that families who are aware of their loved ones wishes are more likely to donate their organs should the situation arise. This campaign is targeted at bringing about behavioral change and encouraging people to sit down together and have the conversation in the run up to Christmas, which is a traditional time for families to come together.”
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has backed the new campaign. He said: “When people decide to donate organs, they give in the most altruistic way the gift of improved health and longer life. Their donation will change the lives of those who receive their organs, creating a legacy which will have immeasurable positive effects.”
But Mr. McGuinness stressed the need for potential donors to make their wishes known to family members. “It’s not enough to simply decide to donate your organs after death”, he said. “Without family knowing about your decision, they may not agree to proceed with organ donation and many lives will be left unaffected. Often families don’t proceed with organ donation because they are uncertain about their loved ones’ wishes and feel daunted by the decision during their time of grief.”
Health Minister, Jim Wells, described Family Discussion Day as “a fantastic idea”.
He added: “Family consent is an extremely important issue when it comes to organ donation as doctors will not proceed with organ donation unless the patient’s loved ones or family consent to it.
“There have been great improvements in organ donation in Northern Ireland in recent years and the numbers of donors and transplants have risen dramatically in a short period of time. However, despite support for organ donation being very high, we need to do more to make sure people are aware of the organ donation register and also that they know how important it is to make their wishes known.”
Join the register
Joining the donor organ register is straightforward. Register online or you can download a form to complete you registration by post. If you want to talk to someone about joining then contact the NHS Donor Line on 0300 123 23 33. This service is available 24 hours a day.
Visit the Northern Ireland Organ Donation website.
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