British people who donate their organs could have their funerals paid for by the country's health service to encourage more people to sign up, under a new proposal from a leading medical ethics think-tank.

The National Health Service (NHS) should start a pilot project to test the practicality and public acceptability of the idea, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics recommended Tuesday.

It described it as an ethical way of increasing the supply of organs available for transplant without creating improper incentives for donors or infringing individuals' and families' rights to consent.

About 8,000 British patients are on the waiting list for a transplant because of a shortage of available organs. Only about 18 million people, less than a third of the UK population, are registered as donors, and only about a thousand per year die in circumstances that make it suitable for their organs to be used.

Professor Dame Marilyn Strathern, who chaired the 18-month Nuffield inquiry, said that while organ donation should continue to be based on the principle of altruism, it was appropriate for the government to offer certain incentives.

"Paying for the funerals of organ donors would be ethically justified -- no harm can come to the donor, and it would be a form of recognition from society," she said. "We think a pilot scheme to test the public response to the idea is worth trying, alongside other schemes."

Keith Rigg, a consultant transplant surgeon in Nottingham, central England said the NHS already contributed to the funeral expenses of people who leave their bodies to medical education and science.