Irrational Encounters With The Modern World

It Takes The Donations Of Millions To Move Us Forwards.

Like eighteen million others, I am now on the Organ Donor Register – but not by choice. This is surprising, as it seems a very personal decision to not be consulted on.

I have had plenty of chances to voluntarily sign up for donation, and have avoided all of them for no rational reason. I simply omitted to give it any thought, beyond the fleeting ones that occurred naturally, and those providing me with images with which I did not wish to contend. It was preferable to completely skip the issue, with its grisly reminder of mortality, and focus on something relatively cheerful instead.

It is five years since I first registered with a GP in Glasgow, and I have moved flat twice since then. One of my friends has just moved into my neighbourhood and, as she needed to find a practice to join, I took the opportunity to accompany her and sign myself up with a nearer surgery. The form had a section enquiring about one’s desire to participate in organ donation after death, and I bypassed it as I always have before. It is my understanding that Scotland, if not the entire UK, operates an opt-in scheme rather than an opt-out one; that is, you ask to be added to the scheme, you are not automatically added and then required to ask for your name to be withdrawn. The proposed mandatory inclusion is frequently subject to debate, but – as yet – consent is not presumed.  That said, Wales has recently voted to introduce it.

donor card

Two letters in identical envelopes arrived in the post yesterday, one addressed to me and one to my friend, who provided this as a care-of address during a recent transitional period. My letter thanks me “for joining the NHS Organ Donor Register through the GP service,” which I absolutely did not do. I jotted a note asking whether she had agreed to this, attached it to her mail, and popped it through her door when I was passing. The answer was no, or more specifically “what the fuck?! I haven’t signed anything like that.”

Either we both managed to misread the forms, agreeing to something that neither of us had a desire to volunteer for, or the receptionist or other unknown staff member ticked those boxes for us once they were out of our possession. It is nice to feel wanted, but disconcerting to think that only specific bits of us are wanted, and then only after the necessary precursor of death.

It has been pointed out to me that I can have my name removed if I wish. I am unable to think of sufficient justification for that, though. “Sorry, I have decided to keep all my organs once I have no further use for them. Tell those suffering that I’d like to help, but I’m not going to.” Better, I feel, to just concur. Among other vital parts, they want to take my heart, lungs, and liver – so I might save a few lives, and if not then they can cook up a sizeable haggis for the wake.

Above: My only previous encounter with Organ Donors.

My friend was equally pragmatic and shared my gallows humour, taking to Facebook to complain about the surgery’s apparent amendment to our completed registration documents. She added, referring to her party lifestyle, that “when I die, I won’t care what will happen to my body, so actually they can take whatever they want. Apart from the liver, cos I don’t have it any more.”

My sole objection, taking a very broad overview, is that I firmly believe the world is drastically over-populated; that there are already more people than the earth’s resources can sustain and it does us no favours to prolong life. However, reducing it to individual cases, I can only begin to imagine the difference that it must make to those who receive transplants, and the improvement to the lives of those who love and care about them. Condensed to that level, and being largely compassionate despite my inherent cynicism, I have no complaints. My name will remain on the list of potential donors.

If you want to register, or find out more, you can do so:



3 responses

  1. I realise that you are a reluctant member of the organ donor registry but I just wanted to say thank you for a) writing about it and b) choosing not to have your name removed from the register.
    I have a personal interest in this because I have an unusual and not curable autoimmune liver disease. For the vast majority of us, the disease is controllable with medication but it’s very unpredictable: some of us can need a liver transplant very quickly, others may never need one. Doctors and researchers can’t tell which group any of us will fall into.
    Most of us are women and all the people that I know who have this illness have young children and others who depend on us.
    I understand your thinking about over population and our resources, and i struggle with that myself. I lso understand that your inclusion on the register was done in a deceptive way.
    But from an entirely selfish perspective, I thank you for being compassionate enough to realise that people like us rely on people like you and your friend (even with a ‘party liver’) so that we have the opportunity to stay around long enough to enjoy a life.

    January 11, 2014 at 2:23 pm

  2. sandra o'donnell

    Until a few years ago, signing the organ donor register was something that probably creeped me out a bit. Like signing your own death warrant or dancing a jig with the grim reaper. Funny how watching your husband suddenly fall desperately ill (primary sclerosing cholangitis, an auto immune condition that attacks the liver, eventually destroying it), focusses the mind.
    He got ill very quickly. He turned yellow, his body blew up full of fluid and slush that his organs couldn’t cope with processing.
    Our two sons, then aged 11 and 9, had to watch him waste to virtually nothing. It was heartbreaking.
    He was 52. His only hope was a liver transplant. Getting onto the list is a challenge in itself. Waiting while on the list is mindblowingly stressful. His kidneys started to collapse, he got sepsis. He spent weeks in hospital. He couldn’t work, so we had to rely on my wage which barely covered the bills, never mind the expense of him being in hospital (believe me, being sick is expensive).
    Thanks to a family who agreed at the moment of their very worst heartbreak to donate their loved one’s organs, he is alive today.
    That is a miracle.
    I realise your name going on the register wasn’t something you planned and that, I honestly believe, should not happen. On behalf of every family waiting for a transplant, thank you and your friend for keeping your name on.
    Thing is, not everyone on the list will donate their organs – only a very few will be unfortunate enough to die in such a manner that their organs can be harvested. Chances are that won’t ever happen to you or me or most people on the register. That’s why we need as many people to think of this issue and talk to their families and sign up – the more on the list, the better chance there is for those in need.
    My family and I still live every day knowing that my husband’s time with us will be limited, rejection is a constant fear, the disease he has will return at some point.
    But the extra time we have is precious.
    Naturally, I signed the organ donor register pretty quickly after he was diagnosed. My kids, although still young, have both said they would want their organs donated should the unthinkable occur.
    It is the very least we can do.

    January 30, 2014 at 11:02 am

    • Yeah, when you’re not affected by it it seems an abstract concept, but I realise that once you get into individual cases then that small decision can mean everything.

      January 30, 2014 at 11:54 am

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