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Our position on organ donation

Around 5,000 people in the UK are waiting for a kidney transplant at any time, yet only around 3,600 transplants are carried out each year. 

The average wait for a deceased donor kidney transplant is 2-3 years.  

Patients who experience complete kidney failure require life-long dialysis treatment or a transplant to survive. When taking into account survival rates, rehabilitation, quality of life and cost, transplant is the best option. 

However, transplants aren’t a life-long solution. They last on average 10-15 years. If or when the transplant fails the patient will need a further transplant or require dialysis. Kidney Research UK is committed to funding vital research into improving the longevity and effectiveness of transplants, and to helping more organs be made available for transplant. 

Thanks to our collaboration with the British Transplant Society and NHS Blood and Transplant we have established the UK Organ Donation and Research Network (UKODTRN). The network is the first of its kind in the UK and gives teams and researchers a platform to work in a coordinated and collaborative way. By bringing together patients, scientists, clinicians and other stakeholders, we are aiming to increase the number of organs available for transplant, ensure donated organs are used in the most effective way and ultimately improve outcomes for kidney transplant patients. 

Organ donation: the law

The law around organ donation consent is set by the devolved nations: 

Laws have now been introduced in Wales (2015), England (2020), Scotland (2021) and Northern Ireland (2022) which rely on an ‘opt out’ system. All adults are considered to be a potential organ donor when they die unless they have opted out through the NHS Organ Donation Register. Families still play a crucial role in consent and so it remains vital that people share their wishes with loved ones. 

Improving donation rates

We would like to see further measures introduced to boost organ donation rates including: 

  • Improving infrastructure and clinical practice to ensure organs are made available for transplant, even in instances when timely organ retrieval is difficult
  • More research to discover ways of making transplanted kidneys work better and last longer
  • A long term education plan to help overcome the main barrier to organ donation – family consent
  • Improved health equality. Stigma, myths and perceived religious obstacles to organ donation currently lead to high rates of objection after death, particularly among minority ethnic groups. These groups are at higher risk of kidney disease and so are over-represented on the organ transplant waiting list.  

Altruistic donation

The number of people choosing to become a ‘living donor’ is growing – most will donate a kidney to someone they know. There are however also non-directed altruistic donors who offer to donate a kidney to an unknown individual who is waiting for a kidney transplant. They have to go through thorough medical assessments to ensure they are fit to donate but the procedure is safe and the body only actually needs one functioning kidney to survive. 

Non-directed altruistic kidney donation is an extraordinarily selfless act. Donors have no knowledge of the person who will benefit. 

It is an important addition in the fight to make more kidneys available for transplant and one which we fully support. However, while we approve of compensating altruistic donors so they are not financially disadvantaged we do not condone any scheme which pays people for an organ. 

Payment for organ donation 

Some countries offer a system of ‘regulated paid provision’ which enables people to be paid to become live kidney donors. 

As a charity we do not support any system of paid provision. 

The decision to become a living organ donor is extremely personal and should not be motivated, influenced or incentivised by the prospect of financial gain. 

We believe paid provision could result in the abuse and exploitation of people who are in a vulnerable position, for example, people in debt, out of work or under duress. 

The alternatives

Our focus is on increasing organ donation rates and reducing the number of people who die while waiting for a kidney transplant.  

We will continue to fund research to find new treatments for kidney disease. 

At the beginning of 2022, researchers in the USA carried out a transplant involving an animal organ. While we will of course watch developments with interest, this area of research is not currently licenced in the UK. 

Reviewed April 2022

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