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European Commission Proposes Actions To Increase Organ Donations And Transplants

Armen Hareyan's picture

Organ Donations And Transplants

European Commission adopted a Communication proposing actions for closer cooperation between Member States in the field of organ donation and transplantation, and announcing plans for a European Directive on quality and safety of organ donation.

The Communication includes ideas to raise public awareness so as to increase organ donation, such as the creation of a European organ donor card. A Eurobarometer survey (see IP/07/719) shows that while 81% of European citizens support the use of an organ donor card, only 12% of Europeans currently have one. Although the number of organ donations and transplants in the EU has risen steadily, many obstacles remain, including a shortage of donors and diverging quality and safety standards. The Communication sets out ideas to increase organ availability, such as creating organ transplant coordinators in hospitals and expanding the use of living donors. The Commission will also promote the exchange of best practices between Member States to make organ transplant systems more efficient and accessible.

EU Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou said: "Thousands of lives are saved every year in Europe by organ transplants. Yet many more lives could be saved if we could reduce the current shortage of organs in many European countries. A European organ donor card, and common EU standards on the quality and safety of organ donations and transplants, could add value to national efforts to secure a sufficient and safe supply or organs."

Increasing organ availability

Public awareness and opinion has an important role to play in increasing organ donation. In 2006, 56% of Europeans declared themselves ready to donate their organs after their death, but this readiness varies considerably from country to country. The Communication argues that creating a European organ donor card which indicates the willingness of the holder to donate organs or not will contribute to increasing public awareness. The Commission will promote cooperation between Member States to increase public awareness, and the creation of such a donor card, or its incorporation into the existing European health insurance card, should be considered in this context.

In order to increase organ donation, learning from the best models using living donors or the so called expanded donors (donors that can be used only for specific recipients) will be promoted. Cooperation between countries will be the best way of defining practice guidelines for those cases.

Directive on quality and safety

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Every year, a number of organs are exchanged between hospitals in different EU Member States, carried out by hospitals or professionals falling under different national requirements with regard to safety and quality. These quality and safety measures currently vary widely.

A European Directive on quality and safety of organ donation, based on Article 152 of the EC Treaty, would create common standards for quality and safety at every stage of the transplant process across the Community, without affecting organ donation rates in the EU. This proposal will complement the cooperation approach set out in the action plan.

The Directive, expected to be proposed in 2008, would establish oversight authorities in Member States, a common set of quality and safety standards and a system to ensure the traceability and the reporting of serious adverse events and reactions.

It would also establish inspection and control measures, and incorporate a mechanism to characterise organs, so that the transplant teams can undertake the appropriate risk assessment.

Organising transplant systems more efficiently

Large differences in organ donation and transplant rates exist within the EU, ranging from 34.6 donors per million people in Spain to 13.8 in the UK, six in Greece and 0.5 in Romania. These differences cannot be easily explained and it is clear that some organisational models are performing better than others. Cooperation between the Member States should focus on identifying the most efficient systems, sharing experience and promoting best practice as well as supporting Member States whose transplant systems are not yet sufficiently developed.

The Communication argues that hospital transplant coordinators have helped to motivate the professionals concerned and produce more efficient results. Guidelines for systems offering surplus organs to the countries in need could also be evaluated, especially for the exchange of organs for urgent and difficult to treat patients.


The main problem in the area of transplantation lies in the shortage of donated organs. Every day almost 10 people die in Europe while waiting for an organ. The mortality rate of patients waiting for a heart, liver or lung transplant is between 15% and 30%. Currently, there are around 40,000 patients in Europe on waiting lists for an organ transplant.

Across Europe, there are huge disparities in the number of organ donors. The shortage of legally-donated organs can, unfortunately, encourage illegal trafficking in human organs, which creates both serious ethical problems and health dangers.