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Opt-out organ donation by 2020

Adults in England will be presumed to consent to donate their organs

Mark Gould

Monday, 06 August 2018

A new opt-out system for organ donation will be in place by 2020 in England, if parliament approves "Max's Law".

Under the plans detailed by ministers in a response to a public consultation, adults will be presumed to be organ donors unless they have specifically recorded their decision not to be. The government said it would save up to 700 lives each year.

In the UK in 2017, 411 people died before the right donor was found, and more than 5,000 people are currently on the waiting list in England.

The response document, New approach to organ and tissue donation in England: government response to public consultation, sets out the following proposals:

  • From spring 2020, everybody will be considered willing to donate their organs after they die unless they have recorded a decision not to do so or are in an excluded group.
  • The public will be given time to consider the impact of this change and the government will launch a national media campaign to raise awareness.
  • While the default position will change, there will always be a discussion involving the family, the specialist nurse, and clinicians, if donation is a possibility on someone’s death.
  • Since faith often plays an important part in one’s organ donation decision, we have proposed measures to make sure people feel confident that their faith will be considered, if they sign up to be a donor.
  • People will be able to record their decision on the NHS app from the end of 2018, which will make the register more accessible.
The consultation outcome document details analysis of the 17,000 consultation responses. It outlines the government’s proposals for a new system of organ and tissue donation consent.

An opt-out system has been in place in Wales since 2015. Scotland plans to introduce a similar scheme and Northern Ireland has also expressed an interest.

"Max's Law" is named after 10-year-old Max Johnson, from Cheshire, who was saved by a heart transplant. His search for a suitable heart was followed in a series of front-page stories in the Daily Mirror, as the newspaper campaigned for the change in the law.

Last year, Theresa May wrote to the 10-year-old, saying she chose the name after she heard his "inspirational story".

The legislation was subsequently introduced last year, and will return to the house of commons in the autumn to be voted on. If passed, it is expected to come into effect in England in spring 2020 - because the timetable for its introduction will allow for a year of "transition" to the new law.

Under the new plans, specialist nurses will be on hand to discuss donation with families after a loved one dies.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, the chair of the Royal College of GPs, welcomed the proposals.

“This is excellent news. Organ and tissue donation has helped transform the lives of thousands of patients and their families at incredibly difficult times in their lives. We welcome that the government is planning to introduce a system of presumed consent that should ensure patients needing a transplant are given the best possible chance of life.

“However, until this new system comes into effect in 2020, the country is likely to remain desperately short of donors and too many lives will continue to be cut short because of a chronic lack of organs – many of which are completely safe and suitable to use. The College recognises that some people are opposed to organ donation for a number of reasons, and that must be respected, but we urge anyone else who is not currently a donor to become one."

Jackie Doyle-Price, secretary of state for mental health and inequalities, said the changes could save up to 700 lives every year, but she said organ donation remained a gift.

"I want to encourage people who wish to give life in the event of their death."

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