I know you don’t really want to think about it, but just for a moment imagine yourself sitting at the bed side of a desperately ill loved one. Now imagine the medical team telling you that without a donor for their failing organ, your loved one will surely die. Can you begin to let yourself feel that pain and terror?
We perhaps quite rightly get incredibly selfish in such situations and any loving parent or relative would be praying for a donor organ to become available soon in order that their loved one may live. But, of course, for every recipient who benefits from the transplant there must be someone who has lost their life so that it could be made possible; another family suffering the pain of the ultimate goodbye.
Now put yourself on the other side of the knife edge and imagine you have a dying relative; you are approached by medical staff to consider donating their organs so that others may live. You are still coming to terms with the terrifying prospect of saying ‘goodbye’ and at this time of crisis the thought of making that decision may, understandably, be too much to bear. However the decision must usually be made hastily if it is to be of any help.
I believe that the best approach is not to wait until something dreadful has already happened but instead to have a family discussion about how each member feels about the subject of organ donation – hopefully long before it will ever become an issue. At this time there is no external pressure and each family member can openly explore and express their feelings, whatever they may be.
Some people worry that if it is known that they will be donating organs after death, the medical team may not do everything they could to save their life. However, the priority of all clinicians is for the wellbeing of the patients in their care and they have a duty to ensure that this is of the highest standard. An entirely different team, probably in another part of the country, have responsibility to care for the recipient and therefore the care the potential donor receives will never be compromised by a conflict of interest.
Following a family discussion, should the nightmare scenario happen, you will already be aware of your family member’s wishes. If this included the desire to donate their organs, it will be a way of bringing something positive to an otherwise dreadful situation; some comfort may be derived from the knowledge that you have carried out the last wish of your loved one.
More than 10,000 people in the UK currently need a transplant and 3 of these will die each day while waiting.
As Reg Green sums up in his book ‘The Nicholas Effect’, the subject of organ donation can hit home for many people – Every year thousands of families, just like theirs, lost a member because other families, also like theirs, didn’t donate the organs their loved ones no longer needed.
Visit organdonation.nhs.uk to register or find out more about organ donation.