LONDON: The UK's state-funded health service on Thursday announced a new option added on to the country's organ donation register to take a potential donor's faith and religious beliefs into account.
The National Health Service (NHS) said the change was being brought in after it emerged that the main barrier to organ donation among people from South Asian backgrounds is the belief that it is against their culture or religion.
"The faith declaration is a positive step in ensuring that faith is recognised within the context of organ donation," said Gurch Randhawa, Indian-origin Professor of Diversity in Public Health, and Director of the Institute for Health Research.
"It will enable NHS staff speak to your family about how organ donation can go ahead in line with your faith or beliefs; the specialist nurse will raise this when they approach relatives about donation," said the author of the 'Faith Engagement and Organ Donation Action Plan'.
Following a consultation, the NHS found a particular need to encourage more black and Asian people to join the NHS Organ Donor Register and speak with their families about their decision.
It highlighted the experience of a British Sikh family as a case study to encourage more Indian-origin families to come forward for organ donation.
London-based Bimla Parmar became a lifesaving organ donor when she died of a brain haemorrhage aged 68, after collapsing at home.
"My mum was not on the NHS Organ Donor Register, but my siblings and I were fine with it as we believed someone else should be helped by our loss," said Gurpreet Parmar, her daughter.
"I personally had registered to be a donor a long time ago as I want to help someone else once I am gone. Mum was religious and loved by everyone. She was able to donate her lungs, kidneys and liver to four people," she said, adding that she hoped this new NHS drive would encourage younger people to educate the elders in their community to sign up to donate.
According to official figures, only 42 per cent of black and Asian families agreed to donate their relative's organs in 2017, compared to 66 per cent of families from the overall population.
Yet, over a third of patients waiting for a kidney transplant are from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities.
"This important update will give people the confidence that when they register a decision to donate their organs, their beliefs will always be considered," said UK Minister for Inequalities Jackie Doyle-Price.
The NHS revealed that a face-to-face survey to measure attitudes towards organ donation was carried out among 1,034 adults aged over 18 years from black and Asian backgrounds during May this year.
The sample was balanced by age, gender and broad geographic region, with 27 per cent saying they thought organ donation was against their culture or religion.
"Organ donation is supported by all the major religions and belief systems in the UK, but we understand that a person's faith or beliefs can play a role in their decision whether or not to donate their organs," said Sally Johnson, interim chief executive for NHS Blood and Transplant.
"NHS Blood and Transplant is committed to working with faith organisations, leaders, non-religious groups, hospital chaplains and pastoral carers to build awareness and break down perceived barriers.
This is particularly important to address concerns and misconceptions about the organ donation process in black, Asian and minority ethnic communities," she said.
The latest development comes in response to the UK government's recent organ donation consultation in England.
If a potential donor requests that the NHS speak to their family, and anyone else appropriate, the specialist nurse will raise this when they approach their relatives over the issue of organ donation.
If queries or concerns relating to faith or belief issues are raised, for instance whether burial would be delayed or if any last rites need to be performed, the nurse will identify the best way to enable donation to go ahead in discussion with the family, while respecting any religious or cultural considerations, the NHS said.
It is hoped that by making the acknowledgement of faith and beliefs an integral part of the registration process for those who wish to take up this option, the new declaration will encourage more people with strong personal faith or beliefs to consider organ donation.