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Blog: Outcry as drivers prompted to be organ donors

A doctor and a patientNew drivers, or those applying for a replacement driving licence, will be asked if they want to sign up to be an organ donor, in an attempt to increase the number of people on the register.

The change, which came into effect at the start of August, stirred up a good debate in the media and it seems public opinion is split between those who think this is a good thing, and those who think it’s an example of the so-called nanny state gone mad.

The thing is, how is it ever a bad thing to prompt people to think about saving a life? Let’s be honest: after death, we have no use for our bodies. So if our body parts - or to be precise, our organs - can help to save the life of another, why not?

The figures speak for themselves: there are currently 7,626 people in the UK waiting for a transplant and around 1,000 people die each year while waiting or because they have become too ill and are removed from the list.


What’s the change?

The driving licence application contains a question about organ donation but it is voluntary.

As of 1 August 2011, the online driving licence requires people to answer the question about joining the register before they can continue with their application. It looks like this:

  • Yes, I would like to register 
  • I do not wish to answer this question now; or
  • I am already registered on the NHS Organ Donor Register

Currently, around one million people sign up to the organ donor register each year, and half of them come through the DVLA.

The authorities hope this one small change alone could double the percentage of people who join the organ donation register when applying for a driving licence.


“Selfless act”

If I were applying for my driving licence now, I know I’d sign up. But for me it’s a moot point as I’ve been a card-carrying member of the organ donor scheme since I was a teenager. Back then, as now, I honestly cannot understand the objections of detractors.

I think Public Health Minister Anne Milton said it best when, unveiling the new driving licence organ donor prompt , she said: “Being an organ donor is a truly selfless act and a life saving gift to someone in need.”

Given the lack of numbers on the organ donor list, it’s possible to make a case that two thirds more than are currently signed up have simply not got round to doing so. So applying for a licence could be the prompt these people need.

Of course, many of those who support organ donation but have yet to sign up will already have driving licences and will miss this crucial ‘prompt’. So what can be done to get them to sign up too?

Presumed consent

Well, an opt-out system has long been under discussion by various authorities. This system presumes people have consented to donating their organs.

This means that if you object to organ donation you have to actively opt-out. Wales is planning to be the first part of the UK to introduce an opt-out scheme.

Speaking last week, Wales’ health minister Lesley Griffiths confirmed: “To further increase the number of organ donors in Wales, the Welsh government will be introducing legislation for an opt-out system of organ donation.”

Young adults spreading the word

One donor recruitment charity has recently started a new project to boost the number of young adults signing up as organ donors.

Samantha Walker, of the African Caribbean Leukaemia Trust (ACLT), set  up to raise awareness of the UK wide shortage of bone marrow, blood and organ donors, particularly in under-represented Black, Asian, Mixed race and  minority ethnic communities, called the driving licence change a “positive move”.

“Many still don’t fully understand the gift of organ donation. These questions [on the driving licence] provide a vital opportunity to ask licensees to stop, listen and think carefully about the option to join the organ donor registry and potentially save lives.

“It’s a common myth that a doctor’s fundamental commitment to save your life is compromised by carrying a donor card. We help dispel these myths and help people make an informed choice. That’s why ACLT is mentoring 18 to 25-year-olds to discuss organ donation with their peers.”  

Pause for thought

If you think an opt-out system is scandalous, let me pose just one question: Would you accept an organ donation to save your own life, or that of your loved ones? If so, why aren’t you signed up and why do you object to an opt-out system?

We want to hear your thoughts, so use the comment box below to share your opinion with our community.

Naphtalia Loderick

Naphtalia Loderick

Naphtalia Loderick covers all things consumer for She started out on a weekly newspaper, via a national news agency and a stint in the fun but ‘not as glamorous as it appears on screen’ world of TV at the BBC researching consumer films for The One Show.

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