A new option added to the NHS organ donor register has been developed to give reassurance about how organ donation can go ahead in line with a person’s faith or beliefs.
The development comes in response to the government’s recent organ donation consultation in England, in which some faith groups stated that they felt more needed to be done to acknowledge the importance of faith and beliefs and for some people when deciding whether to proceed with donation.
Research carried out on behalf of NHS Blood and Transplant also shows that the main barrier to organ donation among black and Asian people is the belief that it is against a person’s culture or religion, despite the fact that organ donation is supported by all major religions and belief systems.
The government asked NHS Blood and Transplant, the organisation that runs the UK’s NHS Organ Donor Register, to develop this new declaration.
People signing up to the NHS Organ Donor Register will now be asked an optional question about whether or not they want their faith or beliefs to be discussed with their family, or anyone else they consider appropriate. This could, for example, be a faith leader or someone else.
Jackie Doyle-Price, minister for Inequalities, said: “Organ donation is a priceless gift – but thousands of people are still waiting for a transplant and we must do all we can to remove the barriers that prevent people from signing up as a donor.
“This important update will give people the confidence that when they register a decision to donate their organs, their beliefs will always be considered. Choosing to donate an organ is and will remain a personal decision and I am delighted that we are making real progress in helping people to make that choice in a way that’s right for them.”
If a potential donor requests that the NHS speak to their family (and anyone else appropriate), the specialist nurse will raise this when they approach their relatives. They will not know what particular faith or beliefs the individual observes. This information will continue to be gathered through conversations with the family.
NHS Blood and Transplant’s specialist nurses in organ donation already discuss faith and beliefs with families. If queries or concerns relating to faith or belief issues are raised (whether burial would be delayed or if any last rites need to be performed), the nurse will identify the best way to enable donation to go ahead in discussion with the family, while respecting any religious or cultural considerations.
It is hoped that by making the acknowledgement of faith and beliefs an integral part of the registration process for those who wish to take up this option, this new declaration will encourage more people with a strong personal faith or beliefs to consider organ donation.
There is a particular need to encourage more black and Asian people to join the NHS Organ Donor Register and speak with their families about their decision.
Last year, only 42 per cent of black and Asian families agreed to donate their relative’s organs, compared to 66 per cent of families from the overall population. Yet, over a third of patients waiting for a kidney transplant are from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. Often their best chance of a match will come from someone of the same ethnic background. One in five people who died on the transplant waiting list last year was from a BAME background.