03 April 2008

The weak Awareness of Awareness Weeks

Apparently this week is "Organ Donor Awareness Week" in Ireland. At least it says so on a rather badly designed poster outside my local supermarket. To make it more appealing, a photo of RTÉ presenter Ryan Tubridy (left) appears on the poster as well.

These days almost every charity uses a well-known face to promote its cause. Given the subject of the campaign, I would have expected rather Ryan's uncle David Andrews to appear on the poster. After all, the former Minister for Foreign Affairs is now the head of the Irish Red Cross and therefore interested in all things medical.

I am all for organ donations and made personal arrangements many years ago. When I die, all my organs and body parts that are still functioning will be available for transplant. The rest of my body will go to medical research. (Once they are finished with me, the remaining parts will be cremated and the ashes dropped into the sea.)
For me this is the most sensible way to deal with my physical remains, but whenever I mention it to someone, I get a strange look and am told that it was "odd". In fact, I had to go through a good bit of paperwork to make sure that my last wish will be fulfilled one day (but hopefully not too soon).

The problem is a severe shortage of organs. Would more be available, more people could receive one and survive, or live a life free of impediment. As long as people have to opt into the system to become organ donors, there will never be enough. Most people are selfish, silly and occupied with petty trivia, and in Ireland more than elsewhere. Becoming an organ donor is very low on their list of priorities, if it features at all. Add to that superstition and the irrational and anti-social doctrines of religious faith communities, and you know why Ireland has a problem with organ donors.

I am not sure that an "awareness week" is doing much good either. Especially not when it is organised the way I encountered it today. In the entrance to my local supermarket there was the above mentioned poster, and beside it a small table and a chair. On the table stood a large jam bucket (used on this occasion to collect money), and on the chair next to it sat a short, rather odd and rough looking man, sporting one of these utterly ridiculous day-glow vests that seem to creep into every walk of life these days.

It is not known to me who organised this campaign, but I would advice the charity to try and get at least some of the money back they paid for it. When a 100% supporter of the cause is appalled and turned away, what effect will it have on other people?

Overall the quality of most Irish charity campaigns is pretty poor. People think as long as they sit in a shopping centre with a bucket and put little stickers on people's clothes, the bucket will be filled with coins. In most cases donors have absolutely no idea who they gave their money to and what it will be used for. But still it is happening every week. If I would put money into every bucket that is pushed into my face, I would have very little left for myself.

But I am very selective these days and only support very few charities whose structure and work I know myself. Charity has become a multi-million industry, employing large numbers of people in offices and on the streets. And of a Euro you drop into one of their buckets, maybe five cents (if you are lucky) will be spent on the "good cause" the collection is made for.

In my opinion an "awareness week", regardless for what, is pretty useless. It pushes a lot of specific information into people's minds, hastily and with hype, in order to collect fast Euros from the usually uninformed and seldom caring passers-by. And then, for the next 51 weeks, ignorance has again the run of the mill, while other charities are trying to make us aware of their causes.

If we want to make people aware of something, it has to be done in a constant and organised form, over weeks and months, and preferably all year round. It is the only way to achieve real awareness.

With regards to organ donations, I think it is time to change the law and make it an opt-out system instead of opt-in. When someone dies and leaves organs that can be used for another person, then those organs should be used right away, without delay or bureaucratic process.
Anyone who is not happy with that could opt out by putting their name onto a register and by carrying a special plastic card. But I would also make it a condition that a person who opted out of giving their own organs would not qualify to receive any, should the situation arise. This is only fair and logical.

I applaud those who take the initiative to increase the number of Irish organ donors, and am happy to see Ryan Tubridy among them. And RTÉ Radio 1 ran at least one ad for the campaign today. Good.

But since there are meanwhile more campaigning charities than weeks in a year, different campaigns get into each other's way. RTÉ Radio 1, for example, broadcast another ad today, with Football pundit John Giles (right) telling us that this is also "Prostate Cancer Awareness Week".

Maybe there are other ads as well which I haven't heard yet, and further "awareness weeks" not advertised on radio. It is all pretty cluttered and confusing, and really badly organised. With more brains, planning and co-ordination this could all be improved.

If we had a caring government and a proper parliament worth the name (and worth the money TDs receive), there would be legislation as I outlined above. No more need for an "organ donor awareness week" then.
And would we have a decent Health Service, regular prostate cancer screenings for men over the age of 40 would be offered in all hospitals (as it is the case in several other EU countries).

The Emerald Islander

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