Death Row “Waiting” Advert Brings Life to UK Organ Donor Crisis


Gwent Police made global headlines when their graphic, viral video showed the consequences of driving whilst texting. Donate Wales has released a similarly powerful advert called “Waiting” showing transplant patients, including 30-month old baby boy Morgan, sitting in “Death Row” prison cells whilst awaiting scarce donor organs.

Filmed in Cardiff’s dungeon-like Clifton Street Police Station, familiar to many for its use in episodes of Dr. Who and other dramas, the “actors” are real patients in urgent need of organ donations. Shot in stark shadows, each patient stares at the camera whilst their name and organ(s) needed flashes on the cell wall. Two of the patients provide voiceovers, then the announcer gravely intones, “one person in Wales dies every 11-days waiting for an organ transplant… please help others on Wales’ invisible Death Row,” accompanied by the distinctive sound of a cell door locking. The advert closes with a child’s voice plaintively asking, “please join the organ donor register.”

If you are not rocked to your very roots, one could question your humanness. Having watched it several times for this article, every element of this Freshfields and Paul Cleverly produced advert is jarring.

And that’s the point.

Most of us ignore adverts that politely and cleverly ask one to join. Donate Wales has always gone for your heart and jugular at the same time. Last year it was the plaintive and haunting young Sian awaiting a kidney and saying, “please don’t let me die,” now… Death Row.

Donate Wales’ chairman Roy Thomas said:

“The UK has one of the lowest organ donor rates in the developed world. This is why we have shown real patients in our advert and not the actors used by government agencies. Real people have told us that they are on their own personal death row. Actors are for Hollywood movies. I challenge anyone to deny these real, fantastic people a proper life.

In 15-years of UK registration, 16 million people or roughly 25% of the UK’s population have opted-in, signing an organ donor card placed on their driving license. The debate and fight now is over a campaign to change this to an assumptive, automatic registration system that gives people the right to “opt-out” of rather than requiring that they “opt-in.”

This has become a libertarian privacy issue and both sides have dug-in with force while people continue to die. The UK Organ Donor Task Force asserts NHS ‘efficiencies’ will increase the number of donors by 50%. The British Medical Journal insists an opt-out programme would have already added 3,000 donor organs alone in the last year.

Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones (Labour) and his Health Minister Edwina Hart are on record for wanting an opt-out system in Wales by the end of 2011. That would still leave some 40+ million people across the UK in the old opt-in system.

The advert is gaining international coverage for its abrupt starkness. The young crying Morgan is the most disturbing image. He cannot have a transplant for another six months and his father (pictured with him) is a corrections officer so, as Donate Wales’ Alison Goldsworthy said, “he is used to seeing the inside of jails. All voiceovers were recorded in the studios of Real Radio, so he was well cared for throughout.”

All but the last patient who was so very ill (a 34 year old diabetic who needs a kidney and a pancreas) were filmed in the cell. Elliw is so ravaged by her diseases she looked much older and was filmed having dialysis and then placed in the cell using CGI. The patients all consented to appear because they want Westminster to change the law on organ donation in the UK.

Patient Concern, the opposition group protesting opt-out sent a written e-mail statement from their co-director Roger M. Goss directing me to three paragraphs of a letter he wrote in 2002. It said that without informed consent, “the subtle coercion inherent in ‘fake’ consent, would risk a serious backlash against organ donation. That would be a disaster. [In other countries (without substantiation beyond the statement)] …the family refusal rate increased sharply in outrage on disclosure that organs were routinely being taken for research behind families’ backs.” Patient Concern then oddly warns that “comparisons with other countries was an attempt to sway the debate by speculative statistics” yet are they not doing the same thing without providing any statistics?

Donate Wales’ Chairman Roy Thomas counters: “The Organ Donor Register is important but the policy of carrying a card is outdated. We did this in the 1980’s. Times have moved on, as have most developed countries to save more lives with an opt-out organ donation system.”

Continued Mr. Thomas, “we are holding back success in transplantation. Leading EU countries with opt-out systems are ahead of us – Belgium, France and Spain have higher rates of deceased organ donation per million as opposed to the UK.”

For or against, the advert has achieved its intended purpose and raised the profile of both the issue and those in greatest need. According to Alison Goldsworthy, Communications Director for Donate Wales, “the harsh reality is these people need transplants and there are not enough organs out there. The public supports an opt-out system 2:1 and two major political parties Plaid Cymru and the LibDems are behind it. Conservative AM Jonathan Morgan, however, is on record against it.”

In a statement from his blog in late-December, Mr. Morgan said: “My concern with hav(ing) an opt-out system is that it relies on people being lazy, perhaps having never uttered what they feel about organ donation.” Attempts to reach AM Morgan by phone and e-mail for further clarification of his position were unsuccessful. It also adds another interesting difference to Westminster’s shining new Conservative/LibDem marriage as Welsh coalition members are divided.

More than 100,000 people watched several versions of the Gwent Police YouTube video on various channels and it was further seen by millions of others on news programs around the world.

Yet another Welsh campaign seems destined for a similar showing.


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