A system of presumed consent for organ donation may increase the number of donors available in the UK, according to research published on BMJ.com.
In 2006, the UK Organ Donation Taskforce was set up to identify barriers to organ donation. At the end of 2008, the Taskforce recommended an overhaul of UK transplant services to boost donor rates but advised against introducing a system of presumed consent.
The research team at the Centre for Reviews and Dissemination (CRD), focused on 13 studies that either assessed organ donation rates before and after the introduction of presumed consent in a single country or compared rates between countries with similar systems.
Several studies assessed by CRD showed a significant link between increased organ donation rates and presumed consent - in one of these estimated donation rates were 25-30% higher with presumed consent.
However, the authors emphasise that it is unlikely that presumed consent alone is responsible for higher donation rates, and that other important factors need to be taken into account. These include mortality from road traffic accidents, the number of transplant centres and coordinators, health expenditure, public awareness and religion.
The authors also analysed 13 surveys that focused on public and professional attitudes towards presumed consent, eight of which were of the UK public. While support in the UK for presumed consent varied, it has been steadily growing since 2000 - in the most recent survey undertaken in 2007, 64% of respondents were in favour of moving to presumed consent.
Dr Catriona McDaid and colleagues believe that this study is a useful stepping stone to future research: "Further work is required to investigate factors at the personal level that may modify donor rates such as how families are approached to discuss donation of a relative's organs. A review of qualitative research addressing these issues would be useful."