Registered organ donors could be placed on a transplant priority list and have their funeral expenses partly paid to encourage more organ and tissue donations, suggests a report published today.
Both ideas have been floated in a consultation paper launched by an independent think-tank, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics.
The first proposal would mean offering registered donors a place at the head of the queue should they need a new kidney, heart or other organ.
The second would involve contributing to the funeral expenses of a dead donor’s relatives.
A variety of other options, including personal “thank you” letters and certificates, souvenirs such as T-shirts and mugs, “presumed consent” systems and financial incentives are also explored.
The latter could encompass anything from modest expenses payments to the regulated selling of organs, eggs or sperm and a fully-fledged free market.
There is a serious shortage of transplant organs, despite 16.5 million Britons having their names on the organ donor register.
Last year, around 3,500 transplant operations were carried out in the UK, but 8,000 patients are waiting for an organ.
Sperm and eggs are also in short supply for fertility treatments, with 1,700 requests a year not being met.
The Nuffield Council consultation is aimed at canvassing public opinion about what new approaches might and might not be acceptable.
Dame Marilyn Strathern, professor of social anthropology at Cambridge University and chair of the working party that produced the consultation paper, said: “We could try to increase the number of organ donors by providing stronger incentives, such as cash, paying funeral costs or priority for an organ in the future, but would this be ethical?”
She stressed that in a sense, donation underpinned all medical treatments, because cells and tissues were vital to research.
The public consultation will last until 13 July with a report containing recommendations due in the second half of next year.