Efforts to boost organ donation levels under a presumed consent system should focus on “feelings and emotions” rather than facts, according to UK researchers.
Their study suggested that one in 10 people were considering opting out of a proposed new system that aims to increase organ donation by presuming consent.
“Evidence has consistently shown that emotional barriers play the greatest role in influencing donor behaviours”
But they also found those planning to opt-out of the approach, earmarked for England and Scotland and already in place in Wales, reported stronger emotional barriers towards organ donation.
These barriers included discomfort at thinking about one’s own death and feelings of disgust about organ donation, said the team from the University of Stirling.
They said their findings suggested that campaigns targeting feelings and emotions, may be more effective than interventions that present facts.
Latest figures indicate that there are more than 6,000 people in the UK currently on the waiting list for an organ transplant. But three people die every day while awaiting a transplant.
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Although 90% of the UK population support organ donation, just 38% have signed up to the organ donor register.
To address the shortage, governments in Scotland and England are planning to follow Wales and introduce opt-out donor consent, which presumes consent unless a person chooses to opt-out.
Prior to the Stirling study, there had been limited research into the public attitudes and intentions regarding the proposed opt-out consent laws, according to the researchers.
They surveyed 1,202 people in the UK on their intentions under the proposed system, finding that 9.4% planned to opt-out, or were unsure of their decision.
The researchers highlighted that, in reality, this number may be even higher because 70% of participants were already organ donors.
The survey, published in the British Journal of Health Psychology, found 66.1% would opt- in and 24.3 would give “deemed consent”.
Study co-author Jordan Miller, who carried out the research as part of her PhD, said: “We found that participants who plan to opt-out of the proposed system reported heightened emotional barriers towards organ donation.
“Concerns that organ donation would violate the physical integrity of the body was a particularly important barrier in this group,” she noted.
“Our study considered a myth-busting strategy currently employed by the NHS – and used by other healthcare providers worldwide – where myths and misconceptions about organ donation are corrected with factual information,” she said.
“Interventions designed to target feelings and emotions may be more effective at increasing donor intentions”
Ms Miller highlighted that such an approach had no effect on increasing donor intentions in those planning to opt-out.
She suggested organ donation campaigns could be more effective if they focus on feelings, rather than facts, in an attempt to overcome deep-set emotional beliefs and increase donor intentions.
“Evidence has consistently shown that emotional barriers – or feelings – play the greatest role in influencing donor behaviours, however, the myth-busting campaign used by the NHS targets facts, rather than feelings,” she said. “Therefore, interventions designed to target feelings and emotions may be more effective at increasing donor intentions.”
She added: “Before the introduction of opt-out consent laws, evaluation of alternative strategies to increase donor intentions are required.”