Why on earth is an animal welfare charity asking people to join the NHS’ organ donor register?

It’s a fair question. Let me attempt to explain.

Earlier this year, the League Against Cruel Sport’s outside HR adviser donated a kidney to her sick mother. Three years ago, I did the same to my 9-year old son. Inevitably, some of our meetings about HR matters end up us as conversations about our experiences.

And invariably we have found ourselves talking about the terrible despair we’ve witnessed among patients unable to receive an organ from a living donor, and who were waiting to see if they’d won the waiting list lottery.

The statistics make for grim reading. Approximately 1,000 people on the waiting list die needlessly every year. Their death was needless because it was as a direct result of the shortage of organs. And that’s because not enough people are currently on the register. So that’s 3 loved ones every day whose lives could have been saved.

My son was relatively ‘lucky’. From diagnosis of kidney failure to transplant took ‘just’ 15 months. Along the way there were no fewer than 10 operations, many of them emergency and/or ‘life-saving procedures.

But as I say, in the overall scheme of things, he was lucky – he had a healthy, compatible and willing donor. However there were children in his Great Ormond Street Hospital ward who were less lucky and who had been waiting 5 years for a kidney.

And for other conditions, the prospects are even worse. If you’re waiting for a liver, there is a 20% chance it won’t reach you in time. For heart patients, the figure is even higher.  Currently there are 6,500 people waiting for a transplant, 173 of whom are children. For all of them, the clock is ticking.

It was against this backdrop that the HR adviser and I took the unusual step of jointly writing a personal appeal to staff. We made it clear we were writing in a personal capacity, and that we respected the right of people to choose not to sign up as organ donors. We asked them to then register their decision on an anonymous on-line survey site.

The results were astonishing. After just 2 weeks, 87% of League staff were now on the NHS donor register. This is almost three times the national figure of around 30% of the adult population. I must admit I was struggling to contain my emotions when I thanked them at a recent staff meeting.

I suppose I haven’t quite answered the question directly: namely, why on earth is an animal welfare charity asking people to join the NHS’ organ donor register? But perhaps the answer is obvious, if not explicit. We’re a charity working to reduce the suffering of living beings. Our staff are passionate, values-driven people. Compassion is implicitly at the heart of who we are and what we do. I am sure the same is true of most if not all charities.

So what better way, then - at a time when there are multiple questions about the role and future of charities - for us to demonstrate fundamentally what we stand for, and how we each strive to walk the talk in every way, than to lend support to NHS Organ Donation Week?

It is my belief that it should be a mission of the charity sector to show values leadership, to help Britain as a nation aspire to the highest set of moral standards. That means each of us setting powerful examples that the public and private sectors, as well as civil society at large, can follow.

Supporting donor registration is one of several ways we can do that. And the worst that could happen is we could save the lives of 3 loved ones every day.

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