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Will advertising help the donor revolution?

The four of us are standing around my mother, she’s still under anaesthesia. Our eyes are glued to the tube extending from underneath the blanket into the bag hanging under the bed. We stare at it for hours. There’s not a sound in the room apart from the monotone hum of medical equipment. Then, suddenly, the first droplets appear from nowhere and the bag slowly but surely begins filling up with the first urine from the donor kidney that had been transplanted into my mother that night. We yell and jump for joy. Never before had a pee made us so happy, relieved and grateful. After ten draining years of dialysis, declining health and hospitalisations, hope reappears on the horizon. And there is new life.

She’d been lucky that somebody at some point had taken five minutes to fill in a donor form. And that she’d reached the top of the waiting list just in the nick of time. Every year, 150 people in the Netherlands (17 million citizens) are much less lucky and die on the waiting list because there isn’t a donor organ. It’s nearly as many people as are killed each year in Dutch car accidents. If all of them had a donor card in their wallet, the problem would be solved. But the percentage of the Dutch population registered as yes- donors is below 25 per cent. This despite all the excellent informational and advertising campaigns of the Netherlands Kidney Foundation and the Netherlands Transplant Foundation.

Advertising can do a lot, but it can’t work miracles. If we really want to bring the figure down from 150 deaths a year, we’ve got to have a change to Dutch law. Dutch MP Pia Dijkstra and her party D66 have been appealing for automatic registration in the Netherlands for years. This means instead of registering to be a donor, everyone is a donor unless they register as a non-donor. So if the other parties put party politics aside for a moment and let humanity and common sense guide them, the Netherlands will, like dozens of other civilised countries, have the much-needed legislation in place by this summer.

But if that doesn’t happen – it’s time for a donor revolution. Take to the streets. Carry ‘Pia for President’ banners. And remove the kidney from the Dutch basic health insurance package once and for all. So whoever isn’t willing to donate a kidney, won’t be able to get a new kidney. Or like my mum always said: ‘Play together, share together.’

Dick van der Lecq

Dick van der Lecq is the Managing Director at DDB Unlimited. He was previously the Managing Partner at Etcetera.