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A doctor holds a diseased heart which has just been removed from a patient during a heart transplant operation
Not many Germans have the organ donor ID cardImage: Picture-Alliance /dpa

Germany Struggles to Increase Organ Donor Rolls

DW staff (mrh)
September 24, 2008

Two-thirds of Germans say they want to donate their organs in the event of their death. But they haven't yet done much to back it up. A new pharmacy campaign aims to convince more in Germany to register as donors.


At any given time, around 12,000 critically ill Germans are waiting for an organ transplant. Each day, three of them die. That's because there aren't enough organs -- only around 4,000 on average are donated each year.

A recent poll by the leading German opinion research firm IPSOS found that more than two-thirds of Germans were willing to become organ donors. But only 16 percent (about 13 million Germans) actually have a donor identification card.

To help bridge this gap, the German health ministry has teamed up with the publisher of two free health magazines available at pharmacies in an unusual outreach campaign.

Ten million organ donor card forms will be inserted into the magazines accompanied by articles emphasizing the need for organ donors, as well as assuring readers that their organs will only be taken in the event of their death.

Largest organ campaign

A pharmacist speaks with a customer
Pharmacists hope the campaign will boost the number of donorsImage: dpa

Germany's Health Minister Ulla Schmidt called it "the biggest campaign promoting organ donation that has ever been mounted in Germany," and said she was convinced it would significantly increase the number of card-carrying organ donors.

Previously, those in Germany who wanted to become registered organ donors had to go to a health ministry Web site and fill out the release form, which they could put in their wallet.

The chairman of Germany's Foundation for Organ Donation, Thomas Beck, said wider distribution of the required form was urgent. In the first six months of 2008, 586 Germans donated their organs after their deaths, 81 fewer than in the equivalent period in 2007.

"More than four million people visit our 21,500 pharmacies each day," said Magdalene Linz, president of the Federal Council of Pharmacists, adding that the health-consciousness of their customers and the ease of the application would help increase the number of organ donors.

Germany still behind

Still, the new campaign does not go nearly as far in taking measures to broaden the donor pool as in other countries.

In the United States, applicants for a driver's license or state ID card are asked if they would like to become an organ donor, ensuring that most people have a chance to register.

Some European countries, like Holland, Denmark, Austria and Spain, go even further, presuming consent from potential donors. A similar "opt-out" system, which allow potential donors or their surviving relatives to reject donation but dispense with the prior release forms, is under consideration in Britain.

In an effort to increase organ availability, the European Parliament in April passed a measure instituting an organ donor card that could be recognized Europe-wide, aimed at clearing up issues of consent when patients die abroad. The EU also set up an integrated organ bank that would broaden the pool of potential donors across Europe.

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