If your family know that you wanted to be an organ donor, they are TWICE as likely to support donating your organs. If you join the Register without telling the people closest to you, it may come as a surprise to them. Knowing organ donation is what you would have wanted could make their decision a lot easier to live with at a time when they are trying to deal with their loss. While the law on organ donation will change in the future, your relatives will still be more comfortable supporting your decision if they know that you want to be a donor.
We know that in most cases families will support donation going ahead if they knew that was their loved one’s wish. If the family, or those closest to the person who has died, object to the donation when the person who has died has opted in, healthcare professionals will discuss the matter sensitively with them. They will be encouraged to accept the potential donor’s decision and it will be made clear that they do not have the legal right to veto or overrule those wishes. A key role for the family under both the current and future law is to help ensure healthcare professionals know the potential donor’s views on donation so that they can be respected. There may, nevertheless, be cases where it would be inappropriate for donation to go ahead.
You can join the NHS Organ Donor Register but healthcare professionals will need to speak to someone else at the time of your death who can advise on your medical and social history. This may be your GP – but it’s also advisable to tell the person closest to you, a friend of long standing or a close colleague, about your decision.
When the decision of a person who has died are not known, the relevant Human Tissue (Scotland) Act 2006 defines who is their nearest relative. This enables specialist healthcare professionals seeking permission for donation to know who they should approach and in what order. This ranges from a spouse or partner (including civil or same sex partner); parent or child; brother or sister and other relatives to a friend of long standing. The role of the nearest relative will change in some cases in the future when the law changes to an opt out system.
You can do this if you wish, but it’s better to join the NHS Organ Donor Register and make your friends and family aware of your wishes. By the time your will is read it is likely to be far too late for you to become a donor, as organs need to be removed very soon after death and tissue within 48 hours of death. This is why it’s so important to let those closest to you know your wishes and to record them on the NHS Organ Donor Register.
When they die, inform the healthcare professionals who are involved either with your relative’s care or are helping you in the immediate period following their death (this could be a member of the hospital staff, a police officer, a Procurator Fiscal Officer or a GP) that they wanted to donate. The earlier you can tell staff, the more likely it is that donation can take place.