It’s 14 February – that special day where we celebrate the unique bond that certain people share. That’s right, today is Organ Donor Day! Surely there can be no more special bond between two people than sharing an organ?
Yes of course, it’s Valentine’s Day as well, the day when millions of people around the world passionately promise their hearts to each other. But how about a kidney? Or some bone marrow? Even just donating your blood can already change, and save, the lives of many around you.
Globally there are hundreds of thousands of people waiting on potentially life-saving organs from organ donors. Yet the number of organ donors in many countries remain extremely low. This is partly affected by the organ donor policy adopted in a country. Countries can either adopt an opt-in or an opt-out policy – in an opt-in system you have to explicitly give consent to become a donor, while in an opt-out system consent is assumed unless you explicitly refuse. The opt-in system obviously results in much less organ donors, and the number becomes even lower in legislative systems where the family of the deceased also have to consent – in 2011, for example, Australia had about 15 donors/million, Germany had 16 donors/million and New Zealand didn’t even make it into double figures, with less than 9 donors/million. Spain, who has an opt-out system, had 34 donors/million.
The above figures specifically relate to deceased donors – interestingly there tends to be many more donations from living donors. This is partially because the consent process is less complex when you’re alive, but also because people are more likely to be moved to perform the selfless act of donating an organ or some body tissue if they know it is going to be used to save a loved one, rather than going the more passive/generic route of offering their body parts to whoever might need it, once you’re dead.
Often, especially in an opt-in system, the low donor numbers are not because people are fundamentally opposed to organ donation, it is simply because they are not aware that they need to actually, while they’re alive, consent to becoming a donor. Or it’s one of those things you just don’t get around to. As such, there really is a huge need for more urgent communication and information sharing on this topic – people need to understand how the system in their country works, and importantly they need to be made aware of the massive positive impact they can make after their death by simply taking the time and making the effort to fill in a donor consent form. Or, if you’re in a system where your family has the final say, like in Australia and New Zealand, talking to your loved ones and making sure that they know you wish to be a donor.
So next time 14 February rolls around, and love is in the air, why not give the ultimate gift of love and opt-in to become an organ donor. Besides potentially becoming a life-saver to your own loved ones, you can touch the lives of many people you’ve never even met – it is estimated that a single person becoming an organ and tissue donor can affect, and potentially save, the lives of no less than 50 people.
Think about it – you can fundamentally touch the lives of 50 people in the time it takes to shop for a valentine’s card. That’s huge…