At least 505 organs from registered donors did not make it to their intended recipients in the last five years because relatives objected to the entire process.
Almost one-third of families stopped organ donations because they felt that the process took “too long,” according to the BBC. While the law states that consent is the deceased person’s, the relatives’ wishes are always respected, anyway.
The National Health Service wants to reduce this number of “overrides” by asking potential donors to talk to their families. In England alone, 457 died last year while waiting for an organ transplant, NHS statistics show.
When someone who is on the Organ Donation Register dies, specialist nurses from the NHS Blood and Transplant work with relatives to make sure the deceased’s decision is carried out. If the family members object, the nurses will encourage them to accept the decision, while making it clear that they can legally override it.
But in practice, if a family refuses, the donation is effectively blocked.
Anthony Clarkson, assistant director of organ donation and transplantation for NHS Blood and Transplant, said, “Although the number of blocked transplants is declining, a number of families each year feel unable to support their relative’s decision to be a donor.” He added,
As a result hundreds of opportunities for potentially life-saving transplants are being missed every year.
Ben Cole, a specialist nurse who works on organ donation, called it “frustrating” when families objected. “We understand that families are approached about donation at a very difficult time, and it can come as a shock to find out their relative had made the decision to donate.”
He relates that most find it difficult to come to terms with their loved ones’ decisions. “I had one family whose son had joined the Organ Donor Register, but they found it hard to believe because he’d never spoken about it. Another family said their dad would have ticked any box, and so weren’t convinced he’d signed up intentionally,” Cole said. “If they are strongly opposed to donation, we would not want to upset them further.”
There are now 6,406 people on transplant waiting lists across the United Kingdom.