The family chat that can save lives

After more than 30 years of living with liver disease, Lenzie man Errol Burchell was in desperate need of a transplant.

My life was saved by a family's generosity

This week – almost four years to the day from when he received his life-saving and life-changing transplant – he is urging families to discuss organ donation, just in case they are ever in the position to save people like him.

A new bill, the Organ Donation and Tissue (Scotland) Bill, has been introduced by Glasgow Labour MSP Anne McTaggart, which she hopes will lead to a system of automatic inclusion on the organ donation list. People who object could still opt out, but it is thought this system will include the many people who have no objections to organ transplant, but who have never actively joined the list. Mr Burchell (72) says he is wholeheartedly supporting the bill.

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But in the meantime, he wants families to talk to one another now, so that their loved ones’ wishes are known.

‘‘If your families don’t know your wishes and you die then the family in many cases are quite reluctant when they are approached by the transplant co-ordinator, they are very reluctant to say yes.

‘‘But obviously if you have made your wishes known to your family it is easier, the co-ordinator will know that they are on the list. People shouldn’t think of talking about it as tempting fate.’’

Before his transplant Mr Burchell had suffered decades of declining liver function, with the year or two before his transplant spent in and out of Stobhill hospital, feeling increasingly ill and weak. But the transplant team at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary identified a suitable organ, and he was able to have his operation.

‘‘I can do anything now,’’ he said. ‘‘I am back to full health, out and about as I used to be. I don’t know who my donor was, but I think of them often.’’

Health Secretary Shona Robison has called on people across Scotland to have a ‘wee chat’ about organ donation with their friends and family in 2015.

The call comes as new research shows almost half of Scots (45 per cent) haven’t discussed their organ donation wishes with their family.

Ms Robison called on all Scots to make a resolution this New Year to discuss their organ donation choices with loved ones.

She said: “I have been on the register for a number of years now, but I also know that I need to discuss these wishes with my family to ensure they honour them in the event of my death.

“Understandably, organ donation isn’t something that comes up in everyday conversation, but the reality is that your family are twice as likely to agree to donation if they know it’s what you would have wanted.’’

In the last five years almost two thirds of those who donated their organs were not on the register.

She added: “We want to reach those people who haven’t thought about organ donation or haven’t decided either way. If you’ve made the positive decision to be an organ donor, please make the time to share that decision with those close to you.”

Recent figures highlighted around 90 more lives could be saved each year if family authorisation rates for organ donation increased.

In Scotland, there are currently 540 people waiting on a life-saving transplant. Although Scotland has made huge strides in organ donation and transplantation with a 62 per cent increase in transplants since 2007/8 and 41 per cent of Scots now on the NHS Organ Donor Register, getting more people talking could make a huge difference to those still waiting.