The Government has announced plans to change the law on consent for organ donation, following years of campaigning by the British Heart Foundation and others.
The new ‘opt-out’ system is expected to come into effect in England in spring 2020, and could lead to hundreds more people receiving life-saving transplants every year.
The change will mean that people will be presumed to consent to donating their organs unless they register their decision to opt-out on the NHS organ donation register.
The new plan, to be known as Max’s Law, will ensure the wishes of the majority of people are better represented. Research shows that 82% of people support organ donation, but only 37% have recorded their wishes on the Organ Donor Register. However, less than half of families give consent for their loved one’s organs to be donated if they are unaware of their wishes.
There are more than 6,000 people on the NHS waiting list for a transplant, including nearly 300 in need of a new heart. For these patients, a transplant is their best hope for long-term survival.
The British Heart Foundation’s Chief Executive, Simon Gillespie, welcomed the decision. He said: “There is a desperate shortage of organ donors in the UK. Introducing an opt-out system in England will better reflect the views of the general public and give hope to those currently waiting for a transplant they so desperately need. This will also ease the agonising pain felt by many families who risk losing a loved one while they wait for an organ.
“It’s still really important for all of us to have conversations with our loved ones about organ donation so our wishes can be met if the worst should happen.”
There will be a 12-month transition period to allow time for discussion with friends and family about organ donation preferences ahead of the new system coming into effect in spring 2020.
Children under 18, individuals who lack the mental capacity to understand the changes and people who have not lived in England for at least 12 months before their death will be excluded from the plans to ensure the system is fair. There will also be strict safeguards in place and specialist nurses will always discuss donation with families so an individual’s wishes are respected.