Jennifer’s Choice: Increasing Organ Donation Rates

organ donation promotionI was touched this evening to see a new fan page on Facebook – Jennifer’s Choice. I’ve posted details of Jennifer’s story below:

Jennifer was born on 12th June 1985 with Cystic Fibrosis. The symptoms of the disease meant she would have a life that would last no longer than her late teens. As a child Jennifer was happy, bright and optimistic. She became an exceptional student and went on to complete a University degree, along with an MA. She always had an unfaltering fighting spirit and with the advent of improved medication, her life expectancy was extended.
But as predicted, her condition deteriorated and in October 2009 she was registered on the lung transplant list. After an 18 month wait, she received a double lung transplant. With much relief it was a great success and Jennifer felt she had been gifted a second chance. In the autumn of 2011 she was able to enjoy a very special day, when she married David, her boyfriend of 4 years.

But less than a year after the operation, the newly married couple’s hopes were shattered when Jennifer was diagnosed with lung cancer. She was told at this time that her donor was a middle-aged person, who smoked 20 cigarettes a day. By the time of diagnosis, the cancer had already spread through her body.

Jennifer maintained her fighting spirit throughout but inevitably, at 9pm Friday 24th August 2012, at home with her family by her side, Jennifer sadly passed away, aged 27.

Jennifer’s fighting spirit lives on and it has inspired us to create a positive and significant change. There is a real shortage of organ donors, 90% of people have already expressed their support for organ donation, but only 29% have registered. Doctors are having to use organs which carry an even higher risk in order to give those in desperate need of a transplant a chance. In the three year period from 1 April 2009 to 31 March 2012, 39% of lung transplants were from donors with a past history of smoking.

 

Our aim is to ensure those waiting for a transplant are informed of all factors which present a higher risk to their health and to make people in good health aware of what a wonderful thing it is to help save someone’s life and give your organs a second life. Think how amazing it would be for your lungs to enable someone to breathe or your eyes to allow someone to see again. Think how incredible it would be to allow someone to live.

I did not know Jennifer, although she was a close friend of a close friend of mine, so I have no direct connection to the campaign. However, the story struck me as so terribly sad – that a young woman should survive so much, only to be brought down by something which was not her fault. This may well be the nature of life, but this sort of situation is preventable.

If more organs were donated in the UK, then this would have been far less likely to happen as Doctors would have the choice to reject lungs from smokers, or other organs potentially damaged by the donor’s lifestyle. However, in the UK right now we have an “opt in” system. That means that the default setting is NOT to donate organs. In my view, this is such a foolish system… we know from endless psychology and behavioural economics research that the vast majority of people are too lazy to change from the default – whatever that is. Hence why we end up with magazine subscriptions we don’t want for years and years, after signing up for “3 free issues”.

In countries where an “opt out” system is used for organ donation – compliance is often near 100%. For example: Germany has an opt-in system – 12% donate organs. Austria has an opt-out system – 98% donate organs. And that comparison is a useful one, I think – not like comparing apples and oranges. Germany and Austria are similar in many ways including socio-economically.

I hope that campaigns like Jennifer’s Choice will start to build momentum and put pressure on the government to implement an opt-out system, where the default is that it is assumed that every person will donate their organs should they meet with an untimely death. I mean, what use is it for your organs to be incinerated or in a ditch, rather than potentially sustaining life for another human being. What a beautiful gift to give – far more than any amount of money and possessions left in a will could ever be!

So, please head over and join the page on Facebook – follow the campaigns progress, and help bring about an opt-out system for organ donation in the UK!

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