European co-operation to increase organ donations

Currently in the European Union over 56,000 people are waiting for an organ transplant which could give them a new lease of life. Every day 12 people die waiting. To tackle this tragic problem there are two things we must do: increase the donation rate across Europe, and effectively and safely use those organs that have been donated.

How can we increase donation rates? Firstly it’s important just to talk about it and make people aware of the problem. I saw an excellent debate on the BBC’s The Big Questions where they revealed 90% of people support the idea of their organs being used to save one or more peoples’ lives once they’ve died, but only around 25% of people are on the organ donor register. Signing up is quick and easy and can be done here.

Of course there’s the debate about whether the organ donor register should be opt-in or opt-out, which is something that needs further discussion. But there are all sorts of other factors which mean that organ donation rates vary wildly across Europe, from one of the highest rates in the world in Spain (34 donors per million population), to the dismal rate in Bulgaria (1 donor per million population). Today the European Parliament adopted an action plan for the next 5 years to ensure that those working around organ transplantation communicate across borders and share their experiences of what works and what doesn’t when encouraging organ donation.

To make sure that we use all the organ donations available to us, the European Parliament today also adopted a report to standardise safety and quality standards for all organ transplants in the EU. This means those patients who are waiting for a rare match could be paired up with a donor from elsewhere in Europe, safe in the knowledge that the donor and organ were subject to the same safety procedures that they would have been in the UK.

In my role as the Labour MEPs’ spokesperson for public health, I’ve been following this legislation closely and have amended it to make it more flexible for the NHS and other health services to work with. I’ve also defended the developing practices of paired, pooled and altruistic living donation. Paired and pooled donation is where donors who don’t match with their relative in need of a transplant donate to someone in a similar situation, and vice versa. Altruistic donation involves somebody volunteering to give an organ, such as a kidney, to a stranger. Of course giving an organ is a big decision, and financial incentives should never be involved.

This brings me on to another awful problem arising from our lack of organ donations, which is organ trafficking. And the only really effective way to combat this terrible crime is to reduce the demand for illegally obtained organs by increasing donation rates.

This is one of the areas where we can reap real benefits for Britain by working together with our European neighbours and I am hoping that today’s decisions in the European Parliament will be a significant step towards solving our severe shortage of organ donations. In the meantime, please consider registering as an organ donor.

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