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'We are all spiritual organ transplant recipients': Christians urged to consider organ donation as waiting list surges to 5-year high

by Tola Mbakwe

The number of people waiting for an organ transplant has risen to five-year high as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, new figures show.

The NHS has issued an "urgent plea" to people to make their loved ones aware about their wishes surrounding donation after the numbers waiting for a transplant increased.

NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) said that an estimated 6,700 people are currently in need of a transplant across the UK - up from 6,138 prior to the start of the pandemic.

While services have made a "strong recovery" and deceased donor transplants are now back to pre-Covid levels, NHSBT said that an increase in public support is needed to help people on the list get the transplants they need.

Joe Walsh donated his kidney last year and told Premier the Church can look at organ donation from a Christian perspective. 

"I do believe that as Christians, we know that everything we receive is from God, even our bodies," he said. 

"It's a something that we steward for God and we should use to benefit other people. In fact, Christians kind of see God as an organ donor, because in Ezekiel 36: 26, we'll see that God has given us a new heart. So God has shared his heart with us, we are spiritually organ transplant recipients. 

"That should affect both the way that we have gratitude and love for God,  but also the compassion we have for the people around us and even the stranger."

The NHSBT has estimated that the increase in patients waiting - expected to be the highest since 2015/16 - comes after services were impacted by the effects of the pandemic.

A number of transplants were put on hold due to the risk of recipients becoming immunosupporessed. And potential donors are not able to donate if they are positive for Covid-19, reducing the number of potential donors, NHSBT added.

It is hoped that the introduction of Max and Keira's law - making the organ donation system in England an "opt out" one - will lead to an increase in donors.

The law, which came into force in May, was named after Keira Ball, who died aged nine in 2017, and Max Johnson, now aged 12, who was saved by her heart.

The law in England follows a similar one introduced in Wales, which was introduced in 2015. Scotland is due to change to an opt-out system in Spring 2021.

Following the introduction of the law in England, families are still consulted before organ donation goes ahead, which is why health officials have implored people to make their wishes about donation known to their families.

NHSBT estimated that 2,500 "transplant opportunities" were missed due to families saying no to donating their relative's organs.

Walsh, who launched a campaign championing organ donation called 'Faith in Operation', said donating his kidney was one of the best experiences of his life. 

"My recipient said that it was life transforming," he said. "She was able to play with her grandchildren again, and just do life normally, which is fantastic to hear. By contrast, it cost me little apart from time and a low risk operation. 

"There are some risks which people should consider if they're wanting to look interest in kidney donation, I think it's something where the Church could really lead the way in increasing numbers of altruistic kidney donations and saving lives and ending suffering."

It said that 835 families declined to support organ donation in 2018/19 - with many families saying they did not know what their relative would have wanted.

Listen to Premier's interview with Joe Walsh here: 

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