Children from the age of 10 are well able to think about organ donation and to indicate why they do or do not want to be an organ donor. The teaching module on organ and tissue donation for group 7 of primary school turns out to be a good way to raise awareness of this topic. Many children then discuss the issue at home with their parents. This has been revealed by research by UMCG researcher Marion Siebelink. She charted which medical, legal and social factors can influence the process of child donorship. Siebelink will be awarded a PhD for her research by the University of Groningen on 18 September 2013.
‘Since 1998, the law has stated that children aged 12 and older can register as donors. This means that you have to provide suitable information to promote awareness and enable debate on the topic’, says Siebelink. Her research has led to the creation of the teaching module Donordenkers [Thinking about donation]. ‘Since it started in 2010, the online teaching module has been visited over 23,000 times and every month more than 500 primary school teachers and pupils use the module in class. The theme is thus attracting attention in society.’ Siebelink has ascertained that pupils who follow the teaching module discuss organ donation at home more often than children who do not encounter it at school.
Children are well able to indicate why they do or do not want to be an organ donor. ‘They often think, if something happens to me, I’d really like someone else to help me and that’s why I’d want to help others too’, says Siebelink. ‘Children who don’t like the idea of being a donor often think it’s a creepy idea, or think “perhaps they won’t try so hard to save me”. The arguments used by children to form an opinion are very similar to those of adults.’
‘I often hear parents ask whether a child can become a donor. They don’t know that they can’, says Siebelink. She is in favour of parents discussing the giving and receiving of organs and tissue with each other and with their children. ‘Parents can suddenly be confronted by the situation. It helps if you have already discussed it at the dinner table. I would like my research to help it become normal to discuss and think about the topic of organ donation.’ Siebelink acknowledges that the subject has its tricky aspects. ‘It means that you automatically think about your own mortality. People don’t like doing that, and certainly not if it’s a child with its whole life ahead of it.’
Siebelink’s research has revealed that about 10% of the children who die in paediatric intensive care are suitable for organ donation. ‘This means about 20 children a year are suitable organ donors’, explains Siebelink. ‘It’s sometimes difficult for doctors to recognize a child as a possible donor, particularly with very young children. Medical professionals would thus also benefit from more awareness of the possibilities and the procedures concerning organ and tissue donation by children. If the process proceeded optimally in all its aspects, then the waiting lists for children could be much shorter’, states Siebelink. ‘Hopefully my research will contribute to improvements in this area.’
Marion Siebelink (Groningen, 1963) studied nursing and specialized in paediatric intensive care. She gained her nursing teaching certificate, a Master of Education, and followed the postdoc programme Ethics in the Care Sector. Siebelink works as a staff member/project leader in the UMCG’s Transplant Centre. Her PhD research was supervised by Prof. H.B.M. van de Wiel, Prof. P.F. Roodbol and Dr M.J.I.J. Albers. The title of her thesis is ‘The child as a donor; a multidisciplinary approach’.
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