By Dr David Shaw, Assistant Professor, Care and Public Health Research Institute, Maastricht University, and

Senior Research Fellow, Institute for Biomedical Ethics, University of Basel

CHRISTMAS is coming. You’ve done most of your shopping, got dinner planned, and are looking forward to welcoming your family and celebrating with them. But Christmas is also a time to be careful. You don’t want to slip on the ice and spend Christmas Day in hospital. You’ll certainly be careful not to undercook the turkey and give your family food poisoning. And you plan to keep a close eye on any designated drivers to ensure that they don’t touch a drop and pose a risk to the public. But there is something else to consider at a Christmas. If you forget to do one important thing, there’s a one per cent chance that you’ll end up killing someone this Christmas.

You probably don’t know it, but if you haven’t registered as an organ donor there’s a one per cent chance you will take several other people with you when you die. Every one in 100 people die in a way that makes donation a possibility, but many never become organ donors. Every day three people die in the UK waiting for an organ, and one donor can save and improve the lives of seven or more people. If you don’t register as a donor, you might well end up contributing to these deaths when you could have helped to save someone.

Of course, one per cent might not seem a very high risk. But if you knew that one in 100 people walking down your path ended up in hospital because of an icy path, you’d take greater care to make it safe. If you knew that your preferred turkey recipe had a one per cent chance of giving your family food poisoning, you’d try to cook it more thoroughly. And if there was just a one per cent chance of killing someone while drink driving, you wouldn’t drive. Registering as an organ donor is a different type of precaution, but it is still one that can save lives.

You might think that this article doesn’t apply to you, because you’re already a registered organ donor. But don’t be complacent: even if you have registered as a donor, you should still talk about organ donation with your family this Christmas. Why? Because in more than 10 per cent of cases, families prevent donation going ahead from a registered donor. So talk to them. Evidence shows that discussing donation (and thus death) with families is the best way to ensure that your wishes are respected – and it might even encourage them to become donors too.

Of course, Christmas is a time of joy and celebration, and talking about death might seem (particularly) inappropriate at this time of year. But Christmas is also supposed to be about thinking about those less fortunate than ourselves, and thousands of people needing a donor will be entering the new year desperately hoping that one comes along soon. Discussing donation with your family over Christmas (you can by all means leave it to Boxing Day) is a type of life insurance. You probably won’t die in a way that makes donation possible, but you should make sure that if you do, you’ll give the gift of life.

There is also a sense in which discussing donation can benefit your family: at least if you do die unexpectedly, they will have confidence in supporting your wish to be a donor and gain some solace from that. Once you’re dead, your organs are no use to you, but they could save several lives. If you talk about organ donation with your family this Christmas, it could lead to someone getting his life back when Easter comes around.