Bioethics Blogs

Free funerals for organ donors: are donation incentives unethical?

Families need to discuss organ donations so they don’t withdraw consent after death. Muffet/Flickr

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics in the United Kingdom has suggested a scheme to gauge support for the idea of government funding for funerals of people who donate their organs.

The recommendation follows an 18-month investigation into ways to increase the rate of organ donation in the UK, which is very similar to Australia’s.

There were 309 organ donors in Australia last year, leading to 931 transplants. Despite this, at any one time there are around 1700 people on waiting lists for organ transplantations.

Waiting times for transplants average between six months and four years, depending upon the organ required.

Australia’s national organ donation rate is 13.8 donors per million population (pmp). We don’t compare well with countries like Spain with its donation rate of 34.3, or France with 24.7 and Norway with 19.9 pmp.

Like Australia, the United Kingdom has a relatively low donation rate of around 14 pmp.

And like Australia, there’s a gap not only between the number of donors and potential recipients, but also between those who express general support for donation, and those who proceed to donate.

The main reason for this gap is because families of the deceased often don’t know the potential donor’s wishes, and therefore withhold consent.

Less commonly, families override known wishes, and in this case, clinicians don’t proceed in the face of family opposition.

It is these gaps that have prompted the Nuffield Council on Bioethics to advise the UK government to encourage donation by offering free funerals for organ donors.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.