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Transplant journalist backs 'presumed consent' proposal on organ donation

A former journalist who underwent a double lung transplant has spoken out in favour of a system of ‘presumed consent’, which would see everyone become a potential organ donor on their death unless they specifically opted out.

UK law currently says that the opposite applies, and people must opt-in by joining the NHS Organ Donor Register or carrying a donor card, or tell their family as relatives are asked for their agreement before organs are removed.

But England’s chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, has called for a ‘presumed consent’ system to be introduced in England to tackle organ shortages, and former Express & Star and Staffordshire Newsletter journalist Mark Allen has backed the move.

The 35-year-old Cystic Fibrosis sufferer underwent a life-saving transplant in October 2005 after 19 months on a transplant waiting list, and said the long, tense wait convinced him that the organ donation system should be changed to presume that everyone is a donor unless they register an objection.

He said: “I would certainly be in favour if it helps to raise the number of donors and shorten the waiting time.

“I think organ donation is something that most people are in favour of, but people just don’t take the active step of signing up or talking to their family because it means facing up to your own mortality.

“As long as people have the chance to opt out if they don’t agree with it, I think it is a good idea.”

During his wait for a donor, Mark had to be ready to leave for hospital within ten minutes of a phone call and endured five false alarms when he was rushed to hospital in Newcastle by ambulance, only to be told available organs were not suitable for him.

Mark, now communications officer at Halton Borough Council, received his sixth, and final, call from the hospital on the eve of his 34th birthday.

He said: “Previously I had got to the point where my body was shaved for surgery and then they said the organ wasn’t suitable.

“So it wasn’t really until they gave me the anaesthetic that I realised it was actually going to happen.

“I was in surgery for eight hours. At one point they came out and told my family that my lungs were out and the new ones were arriving in an hour-and-a-half!”

He added: “At first you are very conscious of it, thinking that a dead person is helping me breathe.

“It is fantastic that a person and their family made that decision – without them I wouldn’t be here today. Not only that, but more of his organs could have been donated, so he could have helped a dozen people.

Mark left hospital a month after the transplant, and began to live the active lifestyle his condition previously prevented.

However, last December his body began to reject the donor lungs and resulting infections have reduced his lung capacity to 25 per cent.

He said: “Even so, I am glad that I went through the transplant – I would not be here without it.

“I definitely encourage people reading this to register as donors, also to speak to their family and tell them their wishes.

“What you have to think is, if you or one of your family members was dying and needed a transplant, you would want someone else to donate an organ to help them.

“If you would be willing to receive an organ, you should also be willing to give one to somebody else.

“My message is – live your life, then give a life.”

  • With thanks to the Runcorn & Widnes Weekly News