Lonely Hearts: Organ Donation in the EU

86000 patients are on organ waiting lists in the EU, Iceland, Norway and Turkey. Image: Pixabay

An ongoing organ shortage has been occurring in Europe as various Member States implement new legislation to keep up with demand.

2014 EU figures showed that 16 people died per day waiting for a transplant in the EU, Iceland, Norway, and Turkey, with 86,000 people on waiting lists.

Last week, Dutch Member of Parliament Pia Dijkstra successfully pushed a new proposal through the Lower House to join surrounding regions in implementing a ‘yes, unless’ policy. The proposal passed with a majority vote of 75-74, after a MP against the policy had a train delay.

This is a reversal of the current policy, where donors must opt-in to a national register. The Netherlands would join 25 other European states who presume consent to organ donation.

“The current policy of the government to recruit more donors lacking”, Dijkstra said in a press release. ‘’The proposal is very good news for people on waiting lists. With this new policy we solve the problem by registering everyone’s choice, however the choice is free.’’

Dijkstra’s Dutch political party D66 report that while 63% of people want to be a donor, only 24% register.

Wales also implemented opt-out legislation in December last year, becoming the first country in the UK to do so.  The country recorded a 24% increase over the 2014-15 financial year for patients whose lives were saved or improved by an organ transplant.

However, there are concerns that opt-out legislation isn’t enough. Spain was one of the first EU countries to adopt opt-out laws in Europe in 1979, it had little impact for the following ten years, as typically even within these systems the deceased’s family has a final say.

Instead, Spain’s National Transplant Organisation (ONT) Director Rafael Matesanz credits their highest donation rates in the EU with the implementation of Transplant Donor Coordinators (TDCs) in hospitals that made the biggest difference in organ donor rates.

Transplant Donor Coordinators are typically physicians or nurses with the sole purpose of increasing organ donation rates. They counsel families regarding the options for donation, and integrate their home hospital into the various donor programs to ensure higher rates of donation.

But, there are further issues regarding organ donation.

For example, organ donation is only possible within a very small percentage, when the deceased is legally dead but artificial respiration allows their organs to continue to be supplied with oxygen-rich blood.

Additionally, Transplant Tourism occurs where wealthy internationals exploit vulnerable populations in resource-poor areas to purchase organs. In 2007 the World Health Organization (WHO) reported 10% of organ transplants occurred as a result of international trafficking.

The European Commission issued a 2010 directive titled the Quality and Safety of Human Organs for Transplantation, aiming to assist and regulate the process through the European Union.

The 2010 Madrid Resolution, supported by WHO and the European Commission, called for all states to strive for self-sufficiency.

“The severe shortage of donors across all organ categories remains a major constraint facing the Member States in the European Union,” said the European Commission.

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