Opt-Out System for Organ Donation – England at a Crossroad

by Ann Alex on Mar 1 2018 5:37 AM

Opt-Out System for Organ Donation – England at a Crossroad
England plans to change their organ donation law to an ‘opt-out’ system. This would make everyone in the country a donor unless they state an objection. This proposed change was done by the Medical ethics experts, which was one step closer to the change in law.//
Thousands of lives can be saved with an increase in the number of organ donations and there would be no requirement for donor cards, Theresa May shared her views at the 2017 Conservative Party Conference. The bill stated that if this change to a “presumed consent” system was enforced, as much as 500 lives would be saved a year. Although the experts from Nuffield Council on Bioethics (NCB) were skeptical that the claim did not have the backing of evidence and risks may weaken the public trust.

Wales introduced presumed consent in their law in 2015 and the data collected since, shows that the there is no increase in the organ donation rate infact the rates have decreased from 214 to 187 between 2015 -16 and 2016-17.

This scheme might make the people more hesitant to donate says NCB. Hugh Whittall, Director, NCB went on to express that their interests were the same, to work in increasing the rate of donated organs. Their concern was the fact that there is a legislative change which does not have much evidence which would weaken the trust of the public with regard to organ donation which may result in serious consequences in the organ donation rate. Training nurses on discussing donation with grieving families and spreading awareness to the public have proven to work, ministers should focus on these factors.

There are about 6,500 people in the UK that are on the transplant list awaiting an organ, but hundreds die every year on the list while waiting for an organ. UK follows the procedure where majority of the donations take place after consent from the loved one. Even if a person is registered as an organ donor, around 1,200 families in a year do not give consent for donation.

The “soft opt-out” organ donation bill was backed by the MP’s during the second reading. The House of Commons would accommodate the first debate after the bill is proposed. The bill would not be eligible to persons under 18 years of age neither would they be able to give informed consent. To determine any other safeguards there is be a public consultation.

Jeremy Corbyn urged MP’s to back the bill, as Labour first proposed to change to an opt-out system during their election. He took to Twitter to point out the need for the change in law - “The gift of life is the most precious thing we can give. The time has come to change the law.”

“as a first step towards the life-saving reforms we need” quoting the case of former footballer Andy Cole, Jeremy Hunt, Health and Social Care Secretary showing his support by backing the bill. Andy Cole former Manchester United striker was diagnosed with Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis and received a kidney transplant, the operation took place at the Manchester Royal Infirmary in April 2017.

In October 2016, 36 year old Rebecca daughter of Labour MP for Sunderland Central Julie Elliott developed a severe kidney problem and is currently undergoing dialysis. She gave a speech declaring that she is in favour of the bill. She goes on to sharing what her family went through the past few months –“What happened to us over the last 18 months could happen to anyone, rich or poor, young or old there’s no differentiation when this type of thing happens, and it highlights the need to change the law to a position of deemed consent. The diagnosis of chronic kidney disease came as a huge shock, to Rebecca, to me, our family and friends. To face the reality of the fragility of life is very hard at any time, but to face it about one of my children, although an adult, is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to face.”

Spain follows the opt-out system and is leading among all the countries in the organ donation rate. It is looked at as a ‘gold standard’ model in the field of organ donation. According to NCB, Spain’s success is due to the improvement in their systems in getting the donor’s organs in time to the patients and respecting family wishes.

Although the country follows the opt-out system there is no registry kept, according to the director of Organizacion Nacional de Trasplantes he feels that the presumed consent system is a “distraction”.

The question will still remain is it better to have an opt-in or opt-out system in a country. As there are varied opinions, but it is good that the focus still remains the same throughout the world in helping more people get a second chance at life through a life saving organ.