England adopts opt-out system for organ donation
Earlier this year the UK Parliament passed the Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Bill, signalling a change in the law regarding organ donation in England. The Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Act 2019 became law on 15th March and means that England will join Wales in having an ‘opt-out’ system. This system has been in place in Wales since 2013, meanwhile Scotland and Northern Ireland will continue to use ‘opt-in’.
The Act, also known as Max and Keira’s Law, means that people in England will have been deemed to have given consent to their organs being donated before death unless they have specifically opted out or if an exception applies. These exceptions are:
If the potential donor is under the age of 18.
If the potential donor lacks the mental capacity to understand the changes for a significant period before their death.
If the potential donor has not lived in England for at least 12 months before their death.
The law was named after the story of two children, Keira Ball and Max Johnson. Two years ago, nine year old Max was being kept alive by mechanical ventilators in a Newcastle hospital following an infection that had left him in urgent need of a heart transplant. Keira, who was also nine at the time was tragically left with severe brain injuries following a road-traffic accident. Keira’s parents decided to donate her heart to Max, saving his life, despite not knowing their daughter’s wishes regarding organ donation.
The change in the law is in response to the needlessly low number of available donors. While the parents of Keira Ball made a decision to donate their child’s organ on her behalf, the majority of families in England choose not to if they are unsure of the deceased wishes.
According to the Guardian, 80% of all adults in England would either definitely donate their organs or would at least consider it but only 37% are actually registered donors. Meanwhile around 6000 people in England are on the Transplant waiting list and roughly 400 people die each year waiting for organs.
The government estimate that this change in the law could save up to 700 lives a year.
People who do not wish for their organs to be donated will need to record their decision on the NHS Organ Donation Register which can be done via the NHS Blood and Transplant website or helpline.
The law comes into force fully in Spring 2020. In the meantime, the government will launch its own public awareness campaign to make sure people fully understand the changes in the law and what they need to do in order to opt out. This interim period will also give people enough time to work out their own position on what can be quite a sensitive topic and have the necessary conversations with loved ones.
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