Tuesday night television doesn’t often bring Luke and me to tears. However, after watching the BBC1 programme ‘Transplant’ we were sobbing our hearts out. In short, the programme followed the journey of organs from a donor to several recipients. My family and I are fairly knowledgeable on this subject (well, regarding lungs anyway!), having had one unsuccessful transplant call and many discussions about the subject. Yet seeing it on screen ‘for real’ was really quite emotional. I was particularly touched by the donor’s family and their willingness to share their experience. The main crux of the programme was the need to raise awareness and general profile of organ donation and to educate people about it.
According to various statistics, 90% of people are supportive of organ donation in principle and there are currently 17,751,795 people on the Organ Donation register as of March 2011. However, a report by the Organ Donor Taskforce (2008) revealed that ‘the actual donation rate in the UK remains poor, and in part this is a consequence of the 40% of relatives who refuse to give consent for donation’. I do not want to sound critical of anybody here and I can completely understand why relatives would refuse consent. They have just been given possibly the worst news of their entire life, and then they are asked to make a massive decision at probably pretty much the same time. The real issue is that whilst many of us agree with organ donation in principle, have we ever made our wishes known to our next of kin? In all honesty, unless you are faced with the prospect of either needing a transplant or having to honour the wishes of a loved one and give consent to donate their organs, it’s not something that generally comes up in conversation. My family and I discuss it fairly frequently (as you can imagine) and we all know that without a doubt we would want our organs to be donated wherever possible. One of the main issues that prevent people from discussing organ donation is the reluctance to face one’s own mortality. Nobody likes to think about dying, so it’s not a conversation that comes easily.
As I mentioned in my previous blog, waiting for somebody to die so that I might live not only fills me with an awful sense of guilt, but also a sense of responsibility. When I was waiting to hear whether the lungs were viable for transplant, I was filled with a sense of overwhelming gratitude. It must have taken the donor’s family such courage and selflessness to honour their loved one’s dying wish. I confess I did get quite upset at one point, but the transplant coordinator really kindly pointed out that it is not as if I wished this on an individual, I was potentially allowing somebody to fulfil their dying wish and allowing something positive to come of an awful tragedy.
As a teacher I know that in order for an individual to learn they must be given the facts and given these in a way that they can access and therefore understand and apply to their life. If organ donation is not discussed and the facts about it presented in a way that people can understand it is always going to be an issue which people know about but don’t really understand! (A bit like long division for me – don’t tell any of my fellow teaching colleagues!) Awareness is being raised and many popular television programmes feature organ donation regularly. Those familiar with the show ‘House’ will be aware of Dr. House’s unorthodox manipulation of the transplant list! However, this and many other programmes still fail to point out the importance of telling your next of kin that you wish to be an organ donor. This is why we were so excited to hear about and subsequently watch the BBC programme ‘Transplant’ as it was a candid portrayal of the many aspects of organ donation. The programme also expressed the importance of organ donation becoming more of an integrated part of our culture and become something that isn’t difficult to discuss.
I live life to the full and don’t live it expecting a new pair of lungs, but I am grateful to those who are willing to donate their organs and God willing I will be one of the lucky ones who receives such a wonderfully generous gift. I don’t feel anger or resentment to those who choose not to donate organs or to those who do not give consent for the use of their loved one’s organs my only hope is they are making an educated and informed decision. Those who decide they would want to donate their organs after their death MUST ensure these wishes are known to their next of kin. A conversation that may be facilitated by sharing this blog and probably not one bought up over Sunday roast! Waiting for an organ has revealed how little is widely known about the many facets of organ donation. The primary aim of this blog is to make people aware of the desperate need for organs and by discussing this openly in one’s life, the decision that families may face is made significantly easier.
PS - The 'Transplant' programme is available on BBC iPlayer click here to go to it!
PPS - If you're reading this and the programme is no longer available, or you are of a squeamish disposition the charity Live Life Then Give Life has some great testimonies from both sides of the organ donation experience.