The last few days there’s been a lot of talk about the new organ donation system coming in at the end of May. I’ve been asked by lots of people what this means and although I’m no expert I do know a bit about it which I think is worth sharing.
Firstly, the new system does not mean everyone will be forced to donate their organs. It is fair for a number of reasons to not want to donate and all that has changed is now those people would need to opt out in the same way those before opted in. I would imagine that those who are strongly opposed would not hesitate to opt out and I can’t see it being difficult to do so.
I do hope, however, that a lot of people would like to. All the new legislation allows is for there to be no effect from the apathy of people who would like to donate but do not take the time to register themselves under the current system. Now the family of anyone who has not opted out can at least be approached to have the discussion around donating. In the event that the family are against the idea it would not go ahead regardless. The new system has been trialled in Wales for a number of years and has been incredibly successful with a noticeable increase in donations taking place.
Importantly, not everyone can donate organs. Not even everyone can donate skin, corneas or other transplantable tissues. Circumstances hugely impact this. For whole organs such as hearts, the patient must be brain stem dead or be solely reliable on life support but still be ‘alive’ in that there is a blood supply to the organ or organs. Organs cannot be taken after death. Certain tissues (skin, corneas, ligaments, heart valves among others) can be taken up to 48 hours after death but for this to happen the time of death must be known. It’s never been confirmed to me but I only ever see this on hospital patients where a time of death is recorded. I think because no time of death can be certain for community deaths it is unlikely their tissues would be taken. If anyone has seen or know more about this please get in touch!
Some other interesting things I know include that tissue/organ donation is above the need for a post mortem. We have had patients who have donated undergo the post mortem process, but seeing as all organs are tested for viability you can assume there is no issue with them. Unfortunately some types of medicines or treatment may mean you are ruled out for tissue or organ donation even if you want to. Organ donation, because it takes place on ‘live’ patients, is completed in the surgical theatres of the hospital and we in the mortuary have no involvement in the process. Tissue retrieval is different however, the people who work for NHSBT (NHS Blood and Transplant) come straight to the mortuary and perform the retrieval in our post mortem room. They work 24/7 retrieving in the evenings and weekends to ensure no time is wasted, and from talking to them they drive long distances to cover large areas also!
My previous post on organ donation– The Tissue & Bone, My Soul Has On Loan
I hope this little insight from my perspective has been useful. I know I have discussed this previously in an earlier post but because of the change in legislation it certainly seemed worthwhile revisiting this once more. I will say, patients we see who donate get so much respect from the APTs, I remember them for the selfless act they do even though deceased. If you have any questions please get in touch, I may not know the answer but I will know who to ask and I’m always interested in learning more.