U.K. unveils new organ donation plan to address Indian-origin shortages

The U.K. government on Sunday announced new plans to change the law for organ and tissue donation to address the urgent need for organs within Indian-origin communities in the country.

The proposed new system of consent for organ and tissue donation is expected to come into effect in England in 2020 as part of a drive to help black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people desperately waiting for a life-saving transplant.

Under the new presumed consent system, those who do not want to donate their organs will be able to record their decision on the state-funded National Health Service (NHS) Organ Donor Register (ODR).

The announcement comes as a recent report called on the NHS to take more proactive action to address the high death rate among Indian-origin people in Britain due to low levels of organ donation within the community.

The ‘Organ Donation: Breaking Taboos Amongst British BAME Communities’ report, commissioned by the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, was aimed at studying the low levels of donation among BAME communities in the U.K.

These communities are seen as generally less inclined to opt for organ donation, largely due to deeply-entrenched cultural and religious beliefs discouraging organ donation.

As part of her research, she uncovered evidence from a number of countries, including India, to show that it is possible to counter religious and cultural beliefs around organ donation.

India has seen a 10-fold increase in its organ donation consent rates over the last decade as a result of sustained public awareness programmes, policy initiatives, and multi-stakeholder collaboration, the findings reveal.

According to NHS records, only 7% of donors last year were from BAME backgrounds, with Indians accounting for just 1.9% of the NHS ODR.

It found that 21% of people who died on the organ donation waiting list in the U.K. last year were from a BAME background, compared with 15% a decade ago. Family refusal continues to be the biggest obstacle to organ donation among the U.K.’s Asian communities, the NHS noted.

As a multi-ethnic country with complex social and cultural structures, India can offer a number of valuable lessons to the U.K. on how to address deeply-entrenched beliefs discouraging organ donation in the South Asian diaspora, the author argues.

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