WRITTEN BY: Jonny Williamson
During the last century the world’s population experienced its biggest growth since records began. With the figure currently just over seven billion, the number is tipped to continue growing at an alarming rate during the current century. This coupled with the fact, at least for the western world, that in contemporary society people are living far longer lives, is putting immense strain on global healthcare services. Nowhere is this more evident than in the world’s demand for healthy organs, with almost every country’s’ requirements far outweighing the supply.
There are a surprisingly large amount of organs able to be donated and transplanted, including the heart, lungs, kidney, liver, pancreas and intestines, with tissues such as skin, heart valves, corneas and tendons also helping to save lives. Yet the combined amount of people waiting for organ transplant in just the UK and US alone equates to over 125,000 people, many of which have already been on the list for months and still face an uncertain future.
Long waiting lists and low organ stocks are not something that has happened overnight, the problem has been restraining healthcare providers for decades; but the seriousness of the situation is leading the world towards crisis point. Accordingly, 2012 has heralded the start of new debates on the subject, with experts, healthcare professionals, even the President of the United States, drawing attention to the problem, many of which are calling for traditional methods to be approached from a fresh perspective, with the entire system being rethought.
Healthcare Global considers the three biggest things happening to organ donation currently and how they are changing the way society views this problematic subject.
Though still needing to formally register with an official agency, Facebook’s decision earlier this year to give members the option to add that they are an organ donor to their profile, and subsequently share the information with friends and family through their timeline, has gone a long way to raise public awareness of the situation, especially with the younger demographic of society.
When questioned by the news programme Good Morning America as to the motives behind the sudden organ donation drive, the creator of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, replied that he had been impressed by the way communities had rallied together after recent events such as the tornados in Missouri and Japan by utilising the site to support and find family members.
Though initially only available in the US, the UK, Australia and the Netherlands, if the scheme goes on to become universally rolled out, Facebook’s organ donation drive has the potential to add an additional 900 million users to the global donor register.
Opt-In versus Opt-Out
The majority of countries make use of either an ‘opt-in’ or ‘opt-out’ policy when it comes to legislating organ donation. Opt-in is a method where individuals have to personally register their intent to become donors with official organisationsutilised by countries such as Germany, the UK and United States (though each State is responsible for its own stance).
Opt-out is the exact opposite, with every individual being considered a donor unless they specifically register as otherwise. Many countries within the EU have implemented an opt-out system, such as Sweden, Italy and France, as studies have shown that a great many people consider registering as donors but never get round to actually doing it, the opt-out policy eliminates this fundamental flaw. Though not without criticism, implementing an opt-out policy has the potential to increase the world’s donor pool three, even four fold.
Organ donation is a sensitive topic for many people, be that for religious, cultural or personal reasons, and the two examples described above have not been met with universal approval. Facebook’s organ drive has led many to complain that it is just yet another piece of personal information about us that will eventually be sold on to the highest bidder, with a large selection of society seeing a change to an opt-out scheme to be far too assuming. Debating the merits of both has generated considerable column inches, both online and in newspapers or magazines; and that is the most important thing currently happening regarding the topic of organ donation. Consistently discussing the issue openly, raising awareness and separating the fact from the fiction will prove to be the best possible way to address the present dilemma.