A Christian presence in every community

Organ donation

by the Bishop of Carlisle the Rt Revd James Newcome, lead bishop on healthcare issues

April 2011 

As we prepare to celebrate Easter, we think of those central events in the life and ministry of Jesus: the crucifixion and the resurrection.  Among other things, they speak to us of self-sacrifice and new life; self-sacrifice in the service of others and new life offered to others.

What is true spiritually often has echoes physically or socially.  One such echo may be found in the sphere of organ donation where we have the opportunity to enhance, prolong or even to save another person's life through our self-giving.  That donating our organs is a selfless gesture of care to others is undoubted; what is less often recognised is the extent of the need for organ donors.

Although ninety five percent of Britons claim to support the idea of organ donation, less than thirty percent are on the organ donor register.  This means that while, at present, there are approximately 10,000 people in the UK waiting for an organ transplant; sadly, one in ten of those people will die waiting.

Statistics from African-Caribbean and South Asian communities are particularly arresting.   Individuals from these communities are three times more likely to suffer from kidney failure than the rest of the population.  They also have an increased susceptibility to diabetes and high blood pressure, which can lead to organ failure.

People from these communities are likely to wait four times longer than other patients, due to a severe lack of registered donors from the same ethnic backgrounds.  Black people, for example, wait an average of 1,389 days for a kidney transplant and Asian people an average of 1,496 days. In contrast, white patients wait an average of 722 days.  Research indicates that key barriers to donation among Black and Asian communities include assumed cultural or religious objections to donation, confusion about who can donate and receive organs, a reluctance to discuss death, and fear of bodily disfigurement.  Helping to address these issues is part of the Church's service to these communities.

Over the past year or so, the Department of Health has supported a project which encourages UK faith communities and faith representatives to raise awareness about organ donation.  The aim of the project is not only to explore faith based perspectives towards organ donation but also to harness the potential of faith communities to address an important social issue. Faith communities have strong social networks and share common values of helping others; it is entirely appropriate that the Church of England has supported this initiative.   

As part of raising awareness about organ donation the initiative has sought to explore common myths surrounding organ donation as well as addressing people's fears and concerns.  Such questions include: Who can donate? What is the process of transplantation? Is it done in a considerate manner? Does my faith encourage me to donate my organs? These are all reasonable and important questions, that we should seek to address.  [Answers to these and other questions may be found at www.organdonation.nhs.uk]

The Department of Health's National Clinical Director of Transplantation, Dr Chris Rudge, has said: "By working in partnership with faith leaders across major religions we are looking to explain to people that organ donation is something they can and should think about. After they have discussed it with family and friends, we would encourage them to take that next step and join the NHS Organ Donor Register."

Professor Gurch Randhawa from the University of Bedfordshire, a member of the Organ Donation Taskforce, has noted: "People often find organ donation a difficult subject to raise with their family and friends and some are unsure of the stance which their religion takes on the issue. This public support from faith leaders gives them clear guidance to help their decision about organ donation."

This is a good time to explore questions surrounding organ donation and to consider joining the NHS Organ Donor Register; an act of self-giving that may bring life to others. Further information and details on how to become an organ donor can be found by visiting www.organdonation.nhs.uk or by telephoning 0300 123 23 23





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