Organ donation – with church support

On 26 January, the fleshandblood campaign was launched with the aim of mobilising churches to increase the number of blood and organ donors in the UK – “a call to recognise a need and respond with an act of generosity”.  fleshandblood is a partnership between the NHS Blood and Transplant, (NHSBT) and Kore, “a creative agency that builds socially good ideas”, and is “sponsored by and in association with denominations, organisations and festivals”.

With the strapline

“What if the Church saw blood and organ donation as part of its giving?”

the campaign is being promoted by the Church of England, Salvation Army, Methodist Church, United Reformed Church and Baptist Union, and is backed by a wide-range of professionally-produced resources, including: information, (press pack, overview, awareness day material); material for initiating discussion; aspects of donation (stewardship, worship, generosity); a questionnaire; and medical information.

The Church of England issued a Press Release in which the Rt Revd James Newcome, Bishop of Carlisle and lead bishop on healthcare, urged Christians to support the campaign and “consider giving more than money”.  This two-year campaign is first occasion on which the NHS has worked alongside the Church on a national initiative of this kind.


The underlying statistics provide a compelling case for action:

  • In excess of 1,000 people die in the UK each year, (i.e. about 3 every day), waiting for an organ transplant;
  • Each day hospitals need 7,000 units of blood and approximately 225,000 extra blood donors needed each year to maintain consistency.

Faith bodies have a long history of encouraging blood and organ donation, and organizationally have a large infrastructure which is well-placed to raise awareness and assist in meeting these needs within the UK.  Subject to certain provisions, most faiths do not object to organ donation and a number positively encourage it. Prior to his election to the papacy, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was known to carry an organ donor card, although this is now inapplicable. The leaflet Organ donation and religious beliefs outlines some of the religious arguments encouraging donation and the support given by senior church leaders.

However, it is necessary to place this new initiative, reliant upon voluntary giving, against the commercial requirements of the NHSBT 2012-17 strategic plan and its target of increasing deceased organ donation by 60 per cent by 2016-17.  The NHSBT has seven strategic themes aimed at delivering this objective, a number of which are supported by the fleshandblood campaign, and its underlying broad action plans include:

  • promoting more widely the economic case for organ donation and transplantation;
  • subject to Cabinet Office approval, marketing plans to sustain and further develop public awareness, especially within  BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) communities;
  • driving performance improvement through reporting a balanced scorecard of performance data that measures national, regional and team performance at each stage of the clinical pathway;
  • optimising transplant activity from living donors in order to enable further expansion in live donation.

Organ donation in the UK currently operates on an “opt-in” basis, although change is in prospect in Wales through the Human Transplantation (Wales) BillThere are important challenges to be met in improving donation rates, and whilst it would be unrealistic for faith communities to ignore the commercial and logistic  realities faced by NHSBT, it would be equally unrealistic for NHSBT to ignore the serious concerns that have been expressed by faith communities in moving to an “opt-out system”, reported here and here.

fleshandblood has the potential to increase donor rates significantly, and by committing their support, the Churches have demonstrated the legitimacy of their inclusion in future policy discussions in this potentially contentious area.

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