When a Donation is Taken for Granted

Taking a break from talking about preparations for the new book today.

Warning: This chapter includes straight talk about death and subjects that we, as Brits, don’t like to talk about. I’m going to discuss donor cards (and explain why I have two) as well as the importance of discussing this taboo subject with your nearest and dearest.

“Certainty? In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.” Benjamin Franklin.

Sorry to argue, Mr Franklin. But it’s possible to live without paying taxes. It’s even legal in the State of Alaska!

No-one can cheat death, though. And the Welsh Assembly Government are working towards a change in the law that will make it necessary to register your wish to opt-out of organ donation, rather than current opt-in system.

It isn’t a comfortable thought, but eventually each of us will die. In many Western cultures, we’ve become very squeamish about it. Death happens in hospitals and care homes; rarely at home, surrounded by family. We never see a dead body and we think they’re somehow disgusting; so we pay strangers to look after our loved ones’ remains. I’m not suggesting we revive the curious 19th Century custom of photographing our dead relatives seated in the parlour. But this reluctance to discuss death causes all sorts of problems.

Most of us never think about our own mortality until we’re confronted with it – which is one reason a terminal diagnosis comes as such a shock. A little forward planning can ease the blow for everyone.

As I mentioned above, I carry two donor cards. I used to give blood on a regular basis and received my silver award for 25 donations before I was diagnosed with MS. Although I’m no longer allowed to give blood, I‘m still registered on the UK Transplant donor database; so that my kidneys, heart, etc. can be used for transplant or research. More information is available here or ask your GP.

The second donor card is for the UK Multiple Sclerosis Tissue Bank. My registration with them states that they are welcome to use the parts of my body affected by MS (basically my central nervous system and a few other tissues) for research purposes after I’m dead. If research into neurological conditions like MS is to progress, it’s vital that scientists have these for research and I’m happy to think I can help in one last way. For anyone who’s interested, their website is: here  and they need non-MSers as well as MSers on the register.

Organ donation is a difficult subject and many people have concerns about registering. If this is the case, the organisations listed above will help, offering useful information and contact details for people you can speak to. For anyone who doesn’t like the idea of their organs being used in this way, I would ask a simple question: Would you accept a donated organ if you or someone you love needed it? If your answer is “Yes” – then shouldn’t you be on the donor register? I heartily support the changes proposed by the Welsh Assembly and hope that Wales’ lead is followed by the rest of the UK and other countries.

At the moment, once it’s certain that someone is not going to survive, say after a traffic accident, then their organs are available for donation ONLY if they have registered their wish to that effect AND their relatives agree. Not surprisingly, most people are unable to make a sensible decision when they are contacted with the news that their loved one is dying. It’s imperative that the decision is taken quickly, but many relatives react without thinking – and refuse. Meanwhile, medical research is slowed by a lack of useable tissue and people continue to die for want of transplanted organs.

I’m proud to carry two donor cards. When I’ve finished using this body, I like to think that at least some parts of it can be useful to someone else. I don’t mind if my organs are used for transplant or research – so long as I can still do something useful.

If you’re interested to find out more or register with either body, please click on the links above. The MS Tissue Bank need non-MS people, as well as MSers, so why not?

Personally, I’d go further than the proposed law. If someone isn’t prepared to donate their organs in the event of their death, I would say that disqualifies them from receiving a donated organ. Harsh? Perhaps. Feel free to comment if you don’t agree. Or if you think I’ve got the right idea.

There are never enough healthy organs for transplant. If you’d be prepared to accept one, shouldn’t you think about registering to donate your own? Shouldn’t you agree to organ donation and make sure your loved ones know about your decision? Put your heart where your mouth is.

I have.