Free funerals for organ donors?

Hannah ThompsonYouGovLabs and UK Public Opinion Website Editor
November 03, 2011, 12:45 PM GMT+0

47% Brits support NHS covering costs but 58% of non-donors say will not make donation more likely

Almost half of the British public would support the idea of the NHS paying funeral expenses of those who have agreed to donate organs, our poll shows, with the majority of the general public thinking that such a measure would encourage more people to sign up to the Organ Donation Register.

However, when we asked those who are not registered donors whether having their funeral costs paid for would make them more likely to join the Donation Register, over half said it would make no difference.

  • 47% of the British public would support funeral costs of organ donors being paid for by the NHS
  • 32% oppose the suggestion
  • 56% of the general public thinks that paying donors’ funeral expenses would lead to more people signing up to donate
  • Around a third (32%) think it would make no difference
  • However, of those who say that they are not on the Organ Donor Register, 58% say the incentive to have their funeral costs paid for would make no difference to how likely they are to join the Register
  • Compared to 28% who think that it would make them more likely to join

The results come in light of the recent Nuffield Council of Bioethics report that proposes that funeral costs should be paid for by the NHS to those who join the register, as a way to help boost the number of donors.

Free funerals

Official UK figures report that 1 in 3 people (18 million) are on the organ donor register, with the NHS seeking to have 25 million people to sign up by 2013.

Regarding the issue of ‘payment’, however, the NHS Blood and Transplant authority states ‘organ donation operates according to the fundamental principle that organs are donated altruistically…it is illegal to receive a payment for supplying an organ’.

As it stands with the debate over organ donation and funeral costs, some, including the Nuffield Council, have argued that the possibility of sparing relatives the financial burden of a funeral might encourage more people to register as donors.

‘Legal, ethical and practical issues’

Nonetheless, the report recommends a pilot scheme since there is no guarantee of how effective offering funeral costs will be in boosting the number of donors, while ‘legal, ethical and practical issues raised by these recommendations’ require careful consideration, comments the NHS Blood and Transplant Authority.

The British Medical Association has called the idea ‘interesting ’, but officially states that the best way to increase organ donation is to ‘move to an opt-out system with safeguards’.

A spokesman from the Department of Health recently told the BBC that ‘signing up to the Organ Donation Register is a selfless act that can save lives of others’.

See the survey details and full results here