Most of us in the United Kingdom have never had any experience of the organ transplant scenario – we have never needed a transplant ourselves, nor do most of us even know of anybody who has, and certainly we predominantly haven’t had any involvement in organ donation. We mainly have been shielded from the horror of it all, haven’t we?
The sad thing is that illness and injury can destroy or debilitate one or more of a person’s organs – particularly upsetting of course when that individual is a child whose future and survival as a consequence is bleak. Some ten thousand men, women, and children in Britain urgently need a transplanted organ, but less than five thousand organs are transplanted annually [an adult can wait for example for three years for a kidney and a child a year].
Organs that commonly fail are the kidneys, the liver, the lungs, the heart, the pancreas, and the intestine, as well items such as eye cornea, skin & heart valves. Surgeons can sometimes do a bit of repair work on damaged organs and doctors can provide drugs and treatments to keep patients going – often as a temporary emergency measure until a replacement organ can be found and transplanted. Very often patients die before this happens – more than a thousand every year in the UK (that’s three poor souls needlessly dying EVERY DAY].
Organ transplants are anything but risk free for sure. Apart from the actual surgical operation risk (frequently on very sick & weak patients), the donated organ can itself be defective, and moreover the body automatically detects the replacement organ as a ‘foreign body’ and immediately attacks it in an attempt to eliminate it. Doctors try to match donor blood and tissue type with the patient to reduce the risk of such a rejection. This basic immune system reaction has to be prevented by immunosuppressive drugs, but then the recipient is at high risk of infection (like say pneumonia).
The transplant of a hand or limb is controversial though because of the rejection problem whereby strong effective anti-immune system drugs have to be taken for life and these basically switch-off a person’s self protection against disease, and that can result in death – not a price worth paying for avoiding an artificial prosthesis surely?
Donation of organs in England depends predominantly on people carrying a Donor Card promising to ‘gift’ organs on death, and their wishes not being overridden on death by relatives (four out of ten do refuse when in fact nine out of ten people are in favour of organ donation) – it is a system that has failed miserably and badly let down the afflicted, while useful life saving organs are allowed to simply decay away unused. Three quarters of organs needed have, by their nature, to come from dead donors, and there is currently still a colossal shortage of organs, despite substantial improvement in the last half decade.
In Scotland four in ten have signed-up for the Organ Donor Register the highest level in the UK, but that does not then translate into sufficient organs, does it? In Northern Ireland about a third of people are registered as donors and in England only three in ten – so it isn’t working is it?
The Welsh however have taken ‘positive’ independent action and from next December (2015) people will automatically be deemed to be ‘donors’ unless they have specifically opted out – that new law should dramatically increase the supply of organs, don’t you think? [a bad caveat though is that ‘a person in a relationship to the potential donor can object at the time of the death, on the basis that they knew the person did not want to be a donor’ – and that means that others can ‘override’ the donation intention]. Those in England under the cosh awaiting a replacement organ, shouldn’t have to wait for an outcome in Wales should they? Why can’t our pontificating MPs simply and quickly change our law as well [and the best solution is to require ALL voters to record Yes or No to being a donor – which would undoubtedly have popular support, surely?
[Often the need for an organ transplant is ‘sudden’ and ‘unexpected’ – so don’t sit back resting on your laurels thinking it is merely a problem for others that won’t ever affect your family or friends].
SEE ALSO AN EARLIER POST: Foremost problem – Organ Transplant “Presumed Consent”?