By Nadeem Badshah
COMMUNITY leaders have welcomed the change in the law on organ donation, but cautioned against people “scaremongering” over the issue.
All adults in England will now be considered to have agreed to be an organ donor when they die, unless they have registered a decision to “opt out”.
Religious groups said the legislation, unveiled last month, will give people more options on organ donations before they die. But they have advised people not to “hype” up the issue on social media about how the process works and whether removing body parts is allowed in Islam, Hinduism or Sikhism.
Mohamed Omer, a government adviser who was part of the consultation group for the new law, told Eastern Eye: “The whole issue is in extreme circumstances – hospitals will always consult the person’s family before taking an organ out, even if the donor and the family said they wanted it to be donated.
“If you are unhappy about this, it’s better to opt out. It’s not in black and white that they’re going to take your organs if you don’t opt out.
“I welcome the new legislation. A fatwa [Islamic ruling] has been passed allowing organ donation in certain circumstances, which is on the NHS website.
“[But] There has been scaremongering. People have to look at the context of it and should not hype it up.
“Sometimes people are quick to react, [they should] read the full text, not just the headline.”
Figures last year showed that organ donations from ethnic minorities were at record high levels, but the NHS warned there was still a chronic shortage of BAME donors. Some 121 people from an ethnic minority background allowed their organs to be transplanted after their death in 2018, the highest number to date, and the number of donations has increased by 51 per cent in five years.
While 32 per cent of those on transplant waiting lists were from BAME backgrounds, just eight per cent of all deceased donors were from these communities in 2018, according to figures from NHS Blood and Transplant.
The data also revealed that 42 per cent of BAME families agreed for a deceased relative’s organs to be removed and transplanted when asked for a decision in hospitals, compared with 71 per cent of those from a white background.
Omer, who also runs the Gardens of Peace Muslim cemetery in Essex, added: “The opt-out clause means there are more options so you can change your mind. There is flexibility.
“If my son was in Great Ormond Street Hospital and needed a bone-marrow transplant, would I ask a mufti before getting the donor? No, you would do everything to ensure they would survive.
“I did one last year when the deceased said he wanted his organs to be donated after his death.
“The family were asked and they said, ‘our son has agreed, it’s in his will and he has a donor card, so it’s fine.’ The donor considered it as sadaqah jariyah [continuous charitable act in Islam].”
Recent data showed the number of organ transplants in the UK has fallen from 360 in November 2019 to 99 in April 2020.
But experts have warned it was likely that the number of patients on dialysis in the UK has increased because of the pandemic.
Harmander Singh, spokesman for the Sikhs in England think-tank, said opinions were divided among Sikhs on organ donation.
He told Eastern Eye: “It’s a personal interpretation of religious text. Some [families] will put greater value on the body than others, and bring it to the gurdwara first before the funeral.
“Some will say, ‘we are sustaining the life of someone who deserves it’, others will say ‘we are not donating because we don’t want our loved ones to be harvested’.
“There’s no rule to say you can’t donate organs.
“There is a lack of awareness that the law has changed and people can make that decision while they are still alive. Otherwise it’s an additional pressure on loved ones when a person has died.”
Meanwhile, the Jain and Hindu Organ Donation (JHOD) steering group said it welcomed the government’s decision on donation.
Hindu and Jain groups are explaining the change in legislation to their community through online videos and leaflets.
Kirit Modi, chair of the JHOD steering group, said: “I welcome the change in law because eventually it will result in a significant increase in organ transplants and help save lives.
“I urge members of the Hindu and Jain community to continue to support organ donation and register to donate following discussion with their family.
“I am grateful to the many Hindu and Jain organisations for the amazing work they are doing to promote organ donation in their local communities.
“Covid-19 has had a huge impact on organ transplant recipients and dialysis patients, particularly from BAME communities. The understandable drop in the number of transplants taking place at present has affected the BAME communities more severely.”