A change in the law so that anyone who dies is presumed to have agreed to donate their organs for transplant, unless they obtain a specific opt-out, was urged Tuesday by Chief Medical Officer Liam Donaldson.
The measure would end a shortfall in organ donation that leaves around 7,000 people on the transplant waiting list at any one time, he said.
"We have something of a crisis in this country," said Donaldson. "Every day at least one patient dies while on the list. There is a shortage of organs in this country and the situation is getting worse."
Surveys show that, while only 20 percent of the population are currently registered as donors, up to 70 percent of people say they would be willing to donate if asked.
The "opt-out" system has been introduced in several other European countries including Spain, Austria and Sweden to varied degrees of success.
Spain has a "soft opt-out" option in which the family of the deceased can forbid donation even if the person did not opt-out while alive and has seen donation rates double. However, Sweden, which also introduced the opt-out law, has a lower donation rate than Britain.
Donaldson?s proposal was immediately were backed by the British Medical Association, but opposed by other medical bodies including The Patients Association.
"It is dangerous to presume patients' wishes at a time when difficult decisions need to be made immediately," said the association's Katherine Murphy. "It is not always possible to contact a next of kin in time so we must not take for granted that presumed consent for all is the answer."