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13th Aug 2022

Brussels to push for EU-wide organ donor card

As nearly ten Europeans waiting for an organ transplant die every day, Brussels is set to table a proposal on how to boost organ donations – something currently highlighted by a controversial Dutch reality TV show in which viewers send text messages to a dying woman to help her decide which of three patients should receive her kidney.

EU health commissioner Markos Kyprianou will today unveil a new plan proposing to "promote donations from living donors" as well as to "establish efficient systems" – for example specially trained medical staff – for identifying those that could become organ donors upon their death.

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  • A lot of people say they are willing to help, but the actual rate of organ donation is much lower (Photo: Wikipedia)

Currently, the 27-nation bloc faces a severe shortage of organ donors, as demand for transplants is growing faster than the donor pool. Nearly 40,000 people are now on waiting lists, while 15 to 30 percent of patients usually die while waiting for a heart, liver or lung transplant.

In response, Mr Kyprianou's paper - seen by EUobserver – suggests creating a European organ donor card which would make it easier to identify people willing to donate organs after their death. According to Brussels, 81 percent of Europeans support the use of such a card.

But the main task remains how to close the gap between being willing to donate and actually donating one's organs, as final national donation rates do not always mirror the percentage of people who have previously declared themselves happy to give organs in these countries.

In 2006, 56 percent of Europeans said they were ready to donate their organs after their death, however, family refusals to donate the organs of their deceased relatives fluctuate from six to 42 percent.

Brussels says the more the somewhat taboo issue is discussed within a family, the higher the willingness to donate. Today, only 41 percent of Europeans say they have talked about it with their relatives.

"The most cost-effective means of increasing public willingness to donate seems to be improving the knowledge of health professionals and the media about transplantation issues," the commission's paper states.

Row over Dutch reality TV show

But the latest attempt in the Netherlands to break the taboo on the issue has been strongly criticized.

Dutch broadcaster BNN will on Friday (1 June) launch a reality TV show during which the terminally ill 37-year-old Lisa is supposed to choose which of three kidney patients should receive her kidney. The public is supposed to help her decide by sending text messages.

According to BNN the 80-minute programme is a serious attempt to highlight the scarcity of donor organs – its former director died from kidney failure - but the Dutch ruling coalition has vilified the show.

"The intention of the programme to get more attention for organ donation may be laudable. However, based on the information I now have, the programme appears to me to be inappropriate and unethical because it is a competition," Dutch education and culture minister - and former chief of the Dutch Cancer Institute - Ronald Plasterk was cited as saying by Reuters.

A similar reaction came from Brussels, with the European Commission spokesperson saying "it seems in rather bad taste to do a reality TV show on something which is after all a very serious issue."

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