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Organ Donations in Spain

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n countries where people have to “opt out” of having their organs removed on death and donated this can be very controversial. From spring 2020 this will be the situation in the UK and anyone who has not opted out will be considered to have given their “presumed consent”. This is in response to the very low rate of organ donations in the UK at present, particularly amongst the Asian and Muslim population, and there are a large number of people waiting for a transplant. The “opt out” system became law in Spain in 1979, but it was soon quietly dropped and no organ donations take place without the consent of relatives. In Spain, the permissions given are very high and only 13% of people refuse organ donations following a “brain death” compared to 37% in the UK. Because of an extremely efficient organ donation system that is the envy of other countries a total of 49 people per million head of population in Spain donate organs, and Spain has led the world for the last 26 years. Organs that can be transplanted are the heart, kidneys, liver, pancreas, intestine, stomach and thymus. Tissue donations include bones, stem cells, tendons, corneas, skin, heart valves, nerves and parts of the brain. Last year organ donations in Spain resulted in 5,260 transplant surgeries, including more than 3,200 kidney transplants, 1,200 liver transplants, 360 lung transplants and 300 heart transplants, apart from all the tissue transplants. In large hospitals in Spain there is a transplant coordinator who will approach relatives following a brain death certified by doctors. A decision to allow organ donation has to be given, and the closest relatives are the ones who have to authorise this. If a wife or husband agree but brothers or sisters don’t, the organ “retrieval” takes place, but not if it’s the other way round. In Almería province up to the end of July, 96% of relatives gave their permission, with 89% in all of Andalucía.

Following agreement, a bodily life support system is put into place while specialist surgeons remove organs and tissues. There are 189 hospitals in Spain that can perform organ extractions and 44 of them carry out transplant surgery. The Spanish National Transplant Organization (ONT) in Madrid decides where organs should go based on where they are most needed and can be transported in the required time period, which can be challenging. A heart will last for about four hours out of the body, a liver up to eight hours, the pancreas seven, and kidneys for a day. A donated adult liver can be split and given to more than one child. The ONT may well schedule a private plane to transport organs to distant locations, and at Almería airport if it is shut, there is a team of people who will open it up for an outward flight. In Madrid the ONT team of about 30 people work 24/7, and they have lists of patients with the status of “code zero”. This means that if they don’t receive a transplant within the next 48 to 72 hours, they are expected to die. Organ donation may be a somewhat tricky subject but if a person is certified as being brain dead and has stated that they want to be an organ donor they hope that their relatives will authorise this. In Spain a person can make a “living will” that specifies what happens to them in the event of various medical conditions including organ donation. This is legally binding and is then put on their medical record for health professionals to see.

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Profile for The Almeria Focus

The Almería Focus - September 2019  

The Almeria Focus is a local directory and magazine distributed monthly in the Almeria province of southeast Spain.

The Almería Focus - September 2019  

The Almeria Focus is a local directory and magazine distributed monthly in the Almeria province of southeast Spain.

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