A few weeks ago, Wang Yue, a 2 year old girl from Guangdong province in Southern China was run over and left to die at the side of the street by numerous passers-by. She was then run over again, ignored again and eventually moved to the side of the road by a kindly bin man. Wang Yue sadly dying in the care of doctors, who could do nothing to help. This shocking tale of leaving a fellow human being, a child in fact, to bleed to death at the side of the road, shocked all of us with an innate sense of decency. However, this is a common occurrence: every day, thousands of people die in their hospital beds, the doctors at a loss to act due to ordinary healthy people passing by these invisible victims of our own ignorance and apathy. This lack of organ donation is a severe problem and is now, with huge advances in medical science, the only limiting factor in saving another’s life. In the US, an average of 18 people die every day waiting for donor organs.
In the caring, sharing, free health service providing UK, the situation is just as dire. Currently only around 15 million people in the UK have opted themselves or their children into organ donation: that’s a mere 20% of the population. The situation is so desperate that there is talk of covering the funeral expenses of donors, effectively paving the way for a cash-for-organs culture. This sad state of affairs in our already overly materialistic world seems like a last resort to tempt the ignorant into a tit-for-tat, what’s-mine-is-mine exchange. Why should someone give up their precious organs for free after they die?
Despite what you may have heard down the local, none of the major religions forbid organ donation. None of the great religious texts disallow it, probably because major thoracic surgery was not a widely used procedure 2000-5000 years ago. Religious leaders even actively encourage organ donation- and why not? What could pave your way to heaven faster than altruistically saving someone’s life by literally giving a part of yourself? The Jewish faith sees it as every follower’s active duty to donate their organs after they die and the Catholic Church as well as Islam portray it as an act of charity. The only caveats lie in Islam, where written consent of the donor or next of kin must be provided (which is in accordance with current UK legislation); Jehova’s Witnesses, who need the blood drained from donated organs before donating or receiving and the Shinto and Romany beliefs where it is forbidden but still up to the conscience of the individual believer. Since two thirds of the UK claimed to be religious in the 2011 census, then they should do as their God, Pope, Minister, Pundit, Rabbi or Imam commands and sign up for the godly act of organ donation.
As for the rest of the country, who claim to follow no religion, they have no excuse either. The phrase “you can’t take it with you” should be ringing in their ears when their pen hovers over the consent form. Some superstitious people may think that they may need their organs after they die. Ricky Gervais’s sidekick, Karl “An Idiot Abroad” Pilkington, claimed that he would donate all of his organs after death but would hesitate about donating his eyes as he doesn’t want to be “a blind ghost bumping into stuff”. Now, I can’t tell you what happens to you after you die. I suppose we’d better wait and see (or not). What I do know is that here and now, on this Earth that we share with seven billion other souls, there are people who need our organs, bundles of tissue that will rot in the ground or be burnt in a furnace after our deaths. By not donating, we are effectively waving a tourniquet in front of a bleeding patient, throwing it in the bin and then walking off into the distance, whistling, never to be seen again. If we ask for money for our organs then we are dangling the same tourniquet and saying to our poor bleeding friend, “Ooh, it’s going to cost you”
Lack of advertising may also be to blame for the shortfall but everyone is acutely aware of organ donation by some means . Every doctors’ surgery has the posters up; every driving licence application form has the option; TV and radio campaigns foghorn it out regularly. The registration process is screamingly easy: write down your name and address and tick a few boxes. If that’s too hard, carry a card. I think the only way forward would be to switch to an opt-out system, where anyone who would like to do so would have to write a letter to their GP, stating why they would like to selfishly hang onto their organs and potentially put several lives at grave risk. In the meantime, go to https://www.organdonation.nhs.uk and get on that organ donor register. There is no earthly excuse not to.