Thursday 11 June 2009

12 people die every day waiting for organs

56 000 patients are waiting for an organ transplant in Europe. 12 people die every day while waiting for transplantation according to the European Commission. One of those that were waiting, my children’s cousin, got his heart last week. A little boy who luckily was not one of those that died while waiting. Others just run out of time because there is not organs enough.

A European Commission proposal for a directive is on the table and the Spanish Presidency who takes over after Sweden 1 of January 2010 will prioritize this issue. Spain has reason to be proud over their work in this field having managed to increase the rate of transplantations quite substantially by ensuring a good organization of the healthcare system with regard to this issue. The Commission has also put forward a 10 points action plan. Most of the points are purely organizational for the healthcare system and there is a lot to be done to ensure the well needed maximum efficiency from staff and administration.

But out of these 10 no 4 is being a little different since it says, “improve the knowledge and communication skills of health professionals and patient support groups on organ transplantation.” And this is really key to actually get the organs needed. In some countries, the government does assume that diseased are willing to donate unless they have stated otherwise but it is not the general rule. It is just not enough with the best possible organization of healthcare to ensure enough transplants – people has to be willing to donate as well! Therefore, people need to be recruited to the donation registers. The issue is how to do this.

The obvious way is to put a face on those 56 000 waiting. Daniel Westerling who is soon to be married to the crown princess of Sweden has recently undergone an acute kidney transplantation. The media attention around his operation led to 5 times as many people as normal signing up for the Swedish transplantation registry. Similar increases occur every time there is real media attention around transplantations. The Swedish record in new registrations of donors is from 2006 when an 8 year old girl died in the queue for a new heart. If 12 people die every day while waiting for a new organ, why do we learn about so few of them? And why do people have to die before we register?

If you want to find out how to register in your country this link summary from Scandiatransplant is excellent.


  1. Only legalization of organ sales will provide incentives to solve a shortage of organs that kills people every day.Forbidding individuals from disposing of their organs as they wish (by sale or donation)also encroaches on the fundamental property right every human being has over his own body. There is therefore a moral argument for paying organ donors just are there is a moral case for black markets when such voluntary transactions are forbidden by law.

  2. Yes, the legalization of the trade with voluntary donated organs is an important step to solve this severe problem.

    If this trade is not made legal there will instead be a black market, with all the problems black markets always brings.

  3. In 1776, Adam Smith remarked that "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we can expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest."

    The long queues for organs bear witness to the fact that even though we can expect some organs from the benevolence of our fellow men, we cannot expect enough of them. Nevertheless, our elected policy-makers desperately cling to this idea; that organs should only be available out of benevolence and never be sold for profit. The result? Death in the queue. The solution? A legal market, just as those for meat, beer, and bread.

    Everyone should read Stakes and kidneys, an excellent book by James Stacey Taylor.