The secret message behind this tattoo

For many, getting a tattoo is a life decision. Once the ink is under the skin, there is no turning back. More than a third of Germans have tattoos. The colorful motifs on the bodies have long been a mass fad. But a special motif has a serious background.

The tattoo is not primarily about the look, but about drawing attention to an important topic: around 8,500 people in Germany are currently on the waiting list for an organ donation. At the same time, the number of nationwide donors is declining. The annual report of the German Foundation for Organ Transplantation shows: 869 people nationwide donated 2662 organs last year (same period last year: 2905). That is 64 fewer donors than in 2021. In Hamburg, too, only 28 people donated organs in 2022. Last year there were 37.

How a tattoo should draw attention to the topic of organ donation

To counteract the trend, the non-profit association “Junge Helden” launched the “OPT.INK” campaign. The idea: a free tattoo to draw attention to the issue of organ donation. “When the objection regulation was rejected in the German Bundestag three years ago, it was clear to us that we had to find a way to bring organ donation more into the conversation in an unconventional way,” says Anna Barbara Sum, Managing Director of Junge Helden eV

Kim Petersen (25) has the organ donation tattoo: a semicircle becomes a whole with another semicircle – a symbol for organ donation. Patrick Sun

Organ donation tattoo: A semicircle becomes a whole with another semicircle.
Kim Petersen (25) has the organ donation tattoo: a semicircle becomes a whole with another semicircle – a symbol for organ donation.

Kim Petersen is one of around 3,000 people who have already had the organ donation tattoo: “I’ve had an organ donor card since I was 19. When I found out that there was now a tattoo for it, the decision was made for me”. The 25-year-old rescue worker is convinced of the campaign: “I think there needs to be a lot more discussion about organ donation, living wills and powers of attorney, which are often only discussed in families when there is a bereavement. These are all elementary decisions that you may have to make for someone else at some point.”

Organ donation: why society needs to talk more about the topic

But why a tattoo? “A tattoo sparks conversation because people often ask about the meaning behind it. That’s how you talk about your decision to donate an organ, and that’s exactly what we want,” says Anna Barbara Sum. The motif: a semicircle becomes a whole with another semicircle – a symbol for the gift of life, organ donation.

However, the tattoo is not an official document. In Germany, the decision solution applies to organ donation. Organs may only be removed if the donor has given their express consent. Consent can be given by an entry in the living will or an organ donation card. But this consent is often lacking. A representative survey by the Federal Center for Health Education (BZGA) in March 2023 shows: 84 percent of those surveyed have a positive attitude towards organ donation. However, only 44 percent of Germans recorded their decision in writing. If there is no consent, relatives must make decisions on their behalf.

Organ donation tattoo: A declaration of intent that gets under your skin

“I think the tattoo is a clear statement of intent. The tattoo makes it easier for family members to make decisions on behalf of the patient. Especially if you didn’t have close contact with each other beforehand,” says Kim Petersen.

You might also be interested in: Organ donation day: Leonhard appeals to Hamburgers

Over 250 tattoo studios are currently taking part in the campaign. In Hamburg alone, eleven studios offer organ donation tattoos. “The response is overwhelming,” says Anna Barbara Sum. Demand is also increasing in the Hamburg tattoo studio “Sweet Baby Sunshine”. The motif has already been engraved ten times here. “Many of the dates are still being planned or will be in the next few weeks,” says Antonia, Shop Manager of the tattoo studio. Many tattoo artists offer the tattoo for free – individually, in connection with a paid tattoo or on certain days. With “Sweet Baby Sunshine” the motif is engraved free of charge from a (further) motif value of 250 euros.

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