Should England move to an opt-out organ donor system?

  • February 23, 2018
  • As it currently stands in England, peoples’ organs are only donated after death if they choose to do so, but the British Medical Association (BMA) have called for an opt-out system to be introduced in order to save hundreds of lives each year.

    Unlike England, Wales introduced an opt-out system in December 2015 whereby peoples’ consent to donate their organs after their death is presumed, unless they state otherwise, but following research carried out by the British Heart Foundation, 74% of the population in England are in favour of an opt-out organ donor system.

    Labour MP, Dan Jarvis, agreeing with the BMA, said “England must now move to an opt-out system. The evidence is clear – hundreds of people a year are paying a price of us not doing so.” Figures collated by the NHS revealed that 457 people died in England in 2016 whilst on the waiting list for an organ transplant.

    However the new proposed system has raised concerns; General Practitioner, Dr Margaret McCartney explains that currently 6% of the Welsh population have actively chosen to opt out, and this is now a group of people who, in the previous opt-in system, were still potential donors, as their families would have made the decision on whether or not to donate their deceased relative’s organs. But on the other hand, the families may have chosen not to donate in any event, even before the opt-out system – but there is no way to tell.

    It is also difficult to compare research from other countries where this system is used, as the way it is enforced varies; in Spain and Wales, the opt-out system is said to be ‘soft’ as families of the potential organ donors are still given the chance to refuse, despite the deceased’s wishes to opt-in. But research from other countries where ‘hard’ opt-out systems are adopted (systems where consent to organ donation is strictly presumed, regardless of their families’ wishes), shows that there were increases in the organ donor rate of up to 25%.

    Sophie Keatley, Trainee Legal Executive

    Sophie Keatley, a Trainee Legal Executive at Medical Accident Group, says “nearly 6,300 people are currently on the UK organ transplant waiting list. This system would allow people who have not considered organ donation but who may have, if asked, wanted to donate, the chance to easily fulfil that wish and save lives.”

    The BHF’s poll showed that many people are not aware of their family members’ wishes when it comes to organ donation. Sophie says that “the introduction of an opt-out system would give rise to discussions between families about their wishes, and still allow them to opt-out if wanted.”

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