Background: The availability of donor organs is considerably reduced by relatives refusing donation after death. There is no previous large-scale evaluation of the influence of the Donor Register (DR) consultation and the potential donor's age on this refusal in The Netherlands.
Methods: This study examines 2101 potential organ donors identified in intensive care units between 2005 and 2008 and analyzes the association of DR consultation and subsequent refusal by relatives and the relationship with the potential donor's age.
Results: Of the 1864 potential donor cases where the DR was consulted, the DR revealed no registration in 56%, 20% registration of consent, and 18% objection. In the other 6.5% of cases, where the DR indicated that relatives had to decide, the relatives' refusal rate was significantly lower than in the absence of a DR registration (46% vs. 63%). In 6% of the cases where the DR recorded donation consent, relatives still refused donation. DR registration, objection in the DR, and the relatives' refusal rate if the DR was not decisive increased with donor age.
Conclusions: Despite the introduction of a DR, relatives still play an equally important role in the final decision for organ donation. The general public should be encouraged to register their donation preferences in the DR and also to discuss their preferences with their families. The higher refusal rate of older potential donors means that this group should receive more information about organ donation, especially because the cohort of available donors is ageing.