Figures have shown that around one in seven cases of bereaved families have blocked organ donations from 547 UK registered donors since 2010.
In a bid to make such “overrides” more of an exception, NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) have said they will no longer formally seek the consent of families. Alternatively, families will be provided with a leaflet that explains how consent (or in Scotland, authorisation) lies with the deceased. Families can still block that consent, but their reasons must be given in writing.
NHSBT expect this change to contribute to a rise of 9% in donors. They said the 547 vetoed donors would have been able to provide organs for 1,200 patients and currently, the number of people waiting for transplants in Britain stands at 6,578.
In December 2015, the Welsh system changed to “presumed consent”. This means that people are deemed potential donors unless they opt out specifically.
Sally Johnson, head of NHSBT, said that nurses are speaking for those who have passed away and are registered to become organ donors. This is what they want and expect and she doesn’t want them to be let down.
She added that the NHSBT do not want to cause any additional grief for the bereaved families and feel deep sympathy toward them. They believe that this approach will make what is already a distressing time easier by reducing their burden.
James Hardie, a specialist nurse from St Mary’s Hospital in London said that families often overrule their loved one’s wishes because they might not be aware they were on the register and can find this distressing. He went on to say that if someone refuses the opportunity for their relative to donate their organs, then potentially somebody else misses out on a transplant.
According to the British Medical Association, families should be actively encouraged to respect the decisions of the deceased, but in the minority of cases where their opposition was so strong it could potentially cause severe distress, organ donation may be inappropriate.