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Sign reading human organ for transplant
EU officials are hoping to turn words into actionImage: dpa Zentralbild

Agony of Waiting

DW staff (jg)
April 26, 2008

More than 3,500 EU citizens died last year because they did not get a donor organ in time. Now the EU is planning to introduce a pan-European donor card to address the problem.


A common "organ pool" and a single transplantation hotline are also among the proposed measures passed by the European Parliament last week.

The European Parliament also urged effective measures to be introduced to stop the trade in organs, calling for the 27-states to ensure that organ donations were made "without any self-interest and voluntarily" and no payments were made to the donors. It was agreed the commercial use of organs was not defensible and represented an "violation of human dignity."

Citizens of poorer countries need protected

kidney transplant op
Some people are squeamish about the idea of signing away their organsImage: AP

European Parliamentarian Peter Liese (CDU) said the illegal organ trade would undermine the credibility of the planned donor system and also stressed the importance of stopping "transplantation tourism."

"In developing countries and also in poor EU countries like Romania and Bulgaria, patients are often encouraged to put their health at risk," said Liese.

Some 40,000 patients are currently awaiting transplants in western Europe alone, according to a parliamentary report. The death rate for those waiting for a heart, lung or kidney transplant lies somewhere between 15 and 30 percent.

A mixed picture across the continent

German donor card
National donor cards like this one would be replaced by a Europe-wide schemeImage: AP

Donation rates vary widely across Europe. In Spain, about 35 people out of a million donate their organs, while in eastern European countries the rate is a mere 0.8. Germany has a middle ranking of some 16 organs per million citizens. Part of the reason for this are the differing legal requirements. In Germany and the Netherlands, for example, there is an opt-in system, whereas in Spain and Belgium you have to opt out.

The European Commission believe the introduction of a European donor card -- combined with an awareness-raising campaign --- could help boost the number of people willing to donate their organs.

It could close the gap between what people say and what they do. According to an EU survey, some 80 percent are in favor of donor cards, but only 12 percent actually own one.

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