11/10/2011 06:08 BST | Updated 10/12/2011 05:12 GMT

Organ Donors Should Have Funeral Expenses Paid By NHS, Nuffield Council Suggests

The NHS should consider paying for the funerals of organ donors to deal with a chronic shortage of organs, a report has suggested.

There are currently 8,000 people in the UK waiting an average of three years for an organ transplant. Three people die every day because no transplant is available.

Currently there are 18 million people (30 per cent) signed up on the Organ Donor Register, but the NHS wants to increase this to 25 million by 2013.

One way the health service can do this is offer to pay funeral expenses for donors, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics suggested its report.

The council says that this would be an ethical way to encourage more people to sign up to the Organ Donors Register, without resorting to payment for organs - which is illegal in the UK.

Professor Dame Marilyn Strathern, who chaired the 18-month investigation into the issue, said: "Paying for the funerals of organ donors would be ethically justified - no harm can come to the donor, and it would be a form of recognition from society. We think a pilot scheme to test the public response to the idea is worth trying."

The report also recommends that more research be conducted into the "opt-out" rules for organ donors which are currently in place in Spain and Belgium, where donation rates are significantly higher.

"There is uncertainty about whether or not an opt-out system would lead to more organs being donated. A clear evidence base should be established before changes are considered elsewhere in the UK," said Keith Rigg, a transplant surgeon at Nottingham University Hospital and one of the authors of the report.

Dr Kevin Gunning, a consultant at Addenbrookes Hospital, Cambridge, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the idea had merit but said that it did not address the main problem of convincing more people to sign up as donors before their death.

"Organ donation arouses a lot of emotions, some of it very for organ donation and some of it against," he said. "I think the main thing we need to do is increase the consent rate when we ask families whether they would agree to organ donation from the 65 per cent it is to 85 per cent which is the rate that it is in Spain."

"I think it would work, but I don't think it's going to have a great impact on the number of people who sign up, for example, to the organ donation register," he added. "But we do certainly need to reward people and their families for the gift of organs."