Monday, 7 January 2013

Why Don't People Register as Donors?

So far this blog has mainly focused on current news items, but I thought this piece from 2005 was interesting enough to deserve comment. Thanks to Christopher Hourigan for bringing it to my attention, in a piece in the British Journal of General Practice, October 2005.

Though surveys usually show a majority of people are in favour of organ donation, actual registration rates are much lower. (Of course, actual donation rates are lower still - people often don't die in ways that facilitate the use of their organs.) Why is this? Of course, there are many reasons, and one shouldn't discount the possibility that people who say they are in favour of donation in surveys aren't really so, at least in their own case. But it's worth investigating people's reasons.

According to the survey reported by the BBC, just over 50% of those who hadn't registered as donors hadn't thought about the issue. While this needn't license using their organs anyway, it does suggest that they didn't have serious objections to the practice. Most of this people, if they had thought about the issue, and were typical of those who had, probably would choose to register. So, one obstacle to donor registration appears to be apathy or, perhaps more accurately, an understandable squeamishness in thinking about death. Drives to increase donor registration should encourage people to think and talk about these issues.

Perhaps even more interesting is that 30% of respondents said they 'hadn't got round to it'. These people want to donate their organs and, it seems, their wishes would be respected by an opt-out scheme.

Only 10% report an objection to the use of their organs. Interestingly, many of these objections appeared to be based on false beliefs or misconceptions. This doesn't mean that the objection can simply be ignored, but it does suggest that these people might change their views - and consent to organ donation - if they were properly informed.

Looking at the reasons why people do and do not register as donors can help inform registration policy. Stirling psychologist Ronan O'Carroll has been doing some interesting work in this area, some of which I hope to report on in a later post. I'd be interested in more recent studies like that discussed here, if anyone has any.

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