Freebie funerals may lure organ donors

2011-10-10 22:58

London - Offering free funerals to people who donate kidneys, livers and other organs could help boost donation rates, an influential British medical ethics group says.

In a set of recommendations published on Monday, the Nuffield Council listed various ways to encourage people to donate more body parts, including organs, blood, eggs and sperm.

It suggested that Britain's health system test the idea of paying for the funerals of people who sign up to the national organ donor register and then die after donating a body part. The free funerals would not be available to living donors, such as people who voluntarily give up a kidney, bone marrow, or liver.

"We have ruled out giving people a direct financial incentive to donate," said Keith Rigg, a transplant surgeon at Nottingham University Hospital and an author of the report.

Rigg told reporters on Monday that the free funeral idea would not benefit the donor, but might offer surviving relatives help at a difficult time. He said it was similar to what's done in medical schools, which often cover the burial or cremation costs of people who donate their bodies for anatomy and other classes.

While there are 18 million people in the UK signed up to donate organs, only about 1 000 people a year actually do so, mostly because few die in circumstances that allow their organs to be donated. Britain has the second-lowest rate of organ donation in Europe, just above Greece.

Rigg said the funerals proposal should be tested first to see if it would actually increase organ donation rates, and that experts hadn't set a limit on the amount of money families would get for funeral expenses.

Other experts weren't sure it would work.

Odd reward

"Associating free funerals with organ donation is an odd reward," said Art Caplan, director of the Centre for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania. "It reminds people of how they get to be an organ donor and may make them nervous."

Caplan said educating the public about the need for organ donation would be a better way to convince more people to donate.

John Harris, a bioethics professor at the University of Manchester, described the free funerals offer as "macabre" and said more people would sign up to donate if offered more direct incentives, such as cash.

"We shouldn't be hung up on this idea that altruism and recompense are mutually exclusive," he said. "It is not wrong to try to influence people to do good."

- AP
Read more on:    uk  |  health
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