Organ donor numbers in Germany fall to lowest level in 20 years

Organ donor numbers in Germany fall to lowest level in 20 years
Workers in Hanover putting up a sign advertising organ donations. Photo: DPA
The number of organ donors in Germany reached a new low in 2017, according to statistics released by the German Organ Transplantation Foundation (DSO).

Last year there were only 797 organ donations, 60 fewer than the previous year and the lowest number in the past 20 years.

Compared to other European countries, Germany is in a very poor position, the foundation said.

“Unfortunately, for the first time we will slip below the mark of ten organ donors per one million inhabitants. In 2017 the figure was 9.7,” said Axel Rahmel, director of the DSO.

This has never before happened in the foundation’s history, he added, describing Germany trailing “behind almost all the other western European countries” as a “dramatic development.”

But Rahmel attributes the decline in donations less to the unwillingness of potential donors and more to the consolidation of services in hospitals. He calls for the improvement in the organization of the approximately 1,250 organ donation clinics in Germany.

Last year in Bavaria, the number of organ donors rose by 18 percent – the highest figure in all of Germany’s states. Meanwhile other states such as Hesse, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saarland also registered an increase in the number of donors last year, though the nationwide trend generally declined.

A German organ donor card. Photo: DPA

Spain is the world leader in organ donation with an annual number of 46.9 donors per one million inhabitants. But Spain differs from Germany in that people who don’t wish to have their organs donated after death have to explicitly document it. Residents in Germany on the other hand have to document their willingness to donate their organs by filling out a donor card or a form.

Belgium and Croatia are also far ahead of the Bundesrepublik with more than 30 organ donors per million inhabitants, reports Süddeutsche Zeitung.

“Although more than €100 million were spent on advertising and organization last year, organ donation is at a standstill, ” said Eugen Brysch, head of the German Foundation for Patient Protection (DSP).

According to Brysch, urgent action is needed as 10,000 seriously ill patients are currently on an organ donor waiting list.

The only way to restore the trust of the population and hospital physicians is for the system to be in the hands of the state, he said.

An organ donation scandal that rocked the country several years ago could be a major reason behind the low number of donors. In 2012, a doctor in Göttingen, Lower Saxony was investigated for falsifying medical documents to speed up the process for his patients who needed organ transplants. Prosecutors argued that his actions may have even cost the lives of others who needed the transplants more urgently.

He was accused of attempted manslaughter and grievous bodily harm, but it could not be proved who exactly had died as a result of the data manipulation. Ultimately he was acquitted, but the case also led to further discoveries of other doctors describing their patients as more severely ill than they were, or changing other health details, to move them up the waiting list.

Since then the number of organ donations has dropped, as people have felt discouraged to participate, said Health Minister Hermann Gröhe in 2016.

“The current numbers show that the trust that was lost can only be won back slowly.”

More than two-thirds (69 percent) of Germans say that they would personally donate an organ, according to Gröhe. And yet just one third (32 percent) of Germans have an organ donor card.