Awareness campaign: Eyes are the organ Brits are least likely to donate

02 April 19

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Press Office

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Fight for Sight is raising awareness of the importance of eye donation and the current shortfall in corneas for transplant [1], after a YouGov poll* found that eyes are the organ Brits would be the least likely to donate after their death, when asked to choose from a list [2].

A staggering 44% of us declared eyes as the body part they would least like to donate when selecting from a list of organs. Only 4% said the same for their heart and lungs and 2% for their kidney or liver. Furthermore, just 42% said they would consent to donate the eyes of a loved one after they died.

According to the poll, reasons for reluctance to donate include the personal and squeamish factors associated with eye donation, with over half of those polled (52%) saying they wouldn’t donate their eyes because they feel too personal, and over a third (33%) of people saying the idea makes them feel too squeamish. 

Encouragingly, after being informed of the significant shortfall of corneas available for transplant in the UK and the benefits of corneal donation in improving quality of life, over half (51%) of people who initially said they would be least likely to donate their eyes went on to say they would be likely to donate – showing that when presented with the facts, public attitude towards eye donation can change. 

The Organ Donation (deemed consent) Act, also known as Max and Keira’s Law, was given Royal Assent on 15 March 2019 - meaning that from Spring 2020, all adults in England will be considered potential organ donors unless they choose to opt out or are in an excluded group. Family members will also be able to continue to refuse consent on behalf of their loved ones after their death. 

While the new law is good news for the overall organ donation pool, Fight for Sight is concerned that its research indicates people could opt out of donating their eyes, either themselves or on behalf of a loved one.

Fight for Sight is raising awareness of the life transforming effect of an eye donation, which can restore independence for thousands of people through a corneal transplant. The cornea is the transparent ‘window’ at the front of the eye and it can be damaged in a number of eye conditions, with a serious impact on sight. 

Dr Neil Ebenezer, Director of Research, Policy and Innovation at Fight for Sight, said:
“This research shows that people are less likely to donate their eyes than other organs, so we want to raise awareness of the precious gift that you can give by donating your eyes after you die.

A corneal transplant can transform someone’s life, improving their vision, and allowing them to retain their independence and ability to work, travel, and do all the other things that most of us take for granted. However, every year there aren’t enough corneas to meet the need for transplants. 

Encouragingly, our research shows that when people are made aware of the current deficit and the life changing potential of an eye donation, over half of them change their minds and say they would consider donating their eyes after their death. This highlights the importance of sharing the message and raising awareness."

Rabia is a mother of six living with keratoconus who has benefited from a corneal transplant.

Read Rabia’s story

Gill’s husband tragically died from a cardiac arrest in 2015. Gill was able to give consent for his organs and tissues to be donated, including both of his corneas.

Read Gill and Tristan’s story

What should I do? 

If you want your eyes to give the gift of sight after your death, make sure your loved ones know your wishes. Also make sure you have registered your wishes on the organ donation register.

 

*All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2024 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 19-20 March 2019. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

[1]. NHS Blood and Transplant’s Eye Bank Manager (April 2019), there are currently 279 corneas in the eye banks. Their target is to have around 350 at all times, in order to meet need of 100 corneas transplanted per week and they aim for 10 eye donors per day. This is a 21% shortfall.
[2]. Participants were asked to choose from a list of organs: heart, eyes, liver, kidney and lungs

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