British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has come out in favour of the concept of presumed consent when it comes to removing organs from the dead. That could be a sure way out of the organ shortage plaguing the country.
Writing in The Sunday Telegraph newspaper, he said, "A system of this kind seems to have the potential to close the aching gap between the potential benefits of transplant surgery and the limits imposed by our current system of consent."
Under current British law, organs may be removed only from patients who make their consent known for example, by carrying an organ donor card or with the consent of a family member if intent was not specified.
Switching to a Spanish-style "opt-out" system, he felt.
Such a system would presume consent unless potential donors explicitly registered their disapproval. That would make it easier for doctors to approach families with requests for donations, said Tony Calland, chairman of the British Medical Association's medical ethics committee.
"It changes the awareness of people about organ donation and transplantation in general," he said.
Brown said a task force on organ donation will make recommendations this week. Proposals include staffing an organ donor specialist at every major hospital to discuss donations with families, the Observer newspaper reported.
In Spain, the rate of organ donation is now more than 2.5 times higher than in Britain. More than 7,500 people are waiting for organs in Britain, officials said.
"In Spain, where they made this change, there has been a considerable increase in the number of organs available," Calland said.
Patients' rights groups were skeptical.
"We don't think a private decision, which is a matter of individual conscience, should be taken by the state," said Katherine Murphy, a spokeswoman for Britain's Patients Association.
"If people want to give the gift of life, that is their right. But it must be something that is a voluntary matter," she said.
Opposition Conservatives also criticized the proposal, noting that lawmakers had opposed similar measures in 2004.
U.K. Transplant, the agency that manages Britain's transplant infrastructure, said it welcomed debate on the issue.
But it also conceded that Sweden, which also uses an opt-out system, still had organ donation levels as low as Britain.