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NHS called to cover organ donor funeral costs

NHS called to cover organ donor funeral costs


Organ donors should have their funeral expenses paid by the NHS as a way of tackling the current shortage of organs, it is claimed.

report by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics suggests that covering funeral costs provides an "ethical way" of encouraging more people to sign the Organ Donor Register.

"The possibility of sparing relatives the financial burden of a funeral might encourage more people to register as donors," said Professor Dame Marilyn Strathern, who chaired the 18-month inquiry leading to the report.

"Paying for the funerals of organ donors would be ethically justified - no harm can come to the donor, and it would be a form of recognition from society. We think a pilot scheme to test the public response to the idea is worth trying, alongside other schemes."

Around 30% of the UK population (30 million) are signed up to the Organ Donor Register. The NHS are aiming to increase this to 25 million by 2013.

The Council's report, Human bodies: donation for medicine and research, concludes that "altruism should continue to be central to the approach to all types of donation as it underpins important community values".

However, it argues this approach should not exclude the possibility of allowing some form of payment in some circumstances.

The report proposes an 'Intervention Ladder' to help policy makers consider the ethical acceptability of various ways of encouraging people to donate.

Chairman of the British Medical Association's (BMA) Medical Ethics Committee, Dr Tony Calland, deemed the proposed scheme "interesting" but said the BMA will continue to lobby for an 'opt-out' approach.

"The Nuffield Council has put forward an interesting idea to increase donor rates and the BMA will consider it carefully," he said.

"While the Association has generally opposed incentives for organ donation, we have not specifically considered the offer to pay for the funeral expenses for individuals who donate their organs.  

"The BMA still believes that one of the best ways to increase organ donation is to move to an opt-out system with safeguards and we will continue to lobby for this."

An opt-out system, whereby it is assumed that people consent to donation unless they object, may soon be introduced in Wales. If it is, the Council recommends robust research into the effect it has.

"There is uncertainty about whether or not an opt-out system would lead to more organs being donated," said Keith Rigg, a transplant surgeon at Nottingham University Hospital and one of the authors of the report.

"A clear evidence base should be established before changes are considered elsewhere in the UK."

The Council is concerned the NHS funding squeeze may risk improvements seen in the number of organs available in recent years.

It recommends the Department of Health should closely monitor the impact of any proposed changes to organ donation services and be prepared to act to protect systems that have been shown to work well.


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