x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Free funerals touted as way to boost organ donor rates in UK

Ethics group suggest ways to encourage organ transplants including paying for the funerals of people who sign up to the national organ donor register and then die after donating a body part.

LONDON // Offering free funerals to people who donate kidneys, livers and other organs could help boost donation rates, an influential British medical ethics group has said.

In recommendations published yesterday, the Nuffield Council listed various ways to encourage people to help others.

It suggested that Britain's health system test the idea of paying for the funerals of people who sign up to the national organ donor register and then die after donating a body part.

The free funerals would not be available to living donors, such as people who voluntarily give up a kidney, bone marrow or liver.

"We have ruled out giving people a direct financial incentive to donate," said Keith Rigg, a transplant surgeon at Nottingham University Hospital and an author of the report.

He explained yesterday that the free funeral idea would not benefit the donor but might offer surviving relatives help at a difficult time.

He said it was similar to what is done in medical schools, which often cover the burial or cremation costs of people who donate their bodies for anatomy and other classes.

There are 18 million people in the UK signed up to donate organs but only about 1,000 actually do so each year, mostly because few die in circumstances that allow their organs to be donated. Britain has among the lowest rates of organ donation in Europe and half the rate of the US.

Dr Rigg said the funerals proposal should be tested to see if it would increase organ donation rates, adding that experts had not set a limit on the amount of money families would get for funeral expenses.

Other experts were not sure it would work.

"Associating free funerals with organ donation is an odd reward," said Art Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania.

"It reminds people of how they get to be an organ donor and may make them nervous."

Mr Caplan said educating the public about the need for organ donation would be a better way to convince more people to donate.

John Harris, a bioethics professor at the University of Manchester, described the free funerals offer as "macabre" and said more people would sign up to donate if offered more direct incentives, such as cash.

"We shouldn't be hung up on this idea that altruism and recompense are mutually exclusive," he said. "It is not wrong to try to influence people to do good."