Holyrood to consider organ donation opt-out law

Anne McTaggart with transplant recipients outside the Scottish Parliament yesterday. Picture: Jon Savage

Anne McTaggart with transplant recipients outside the Scottish Parliament yesterday. Picture: Jon Savage

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LEGISLATION to introduce an opt-out system for organ donation in Scotland could be considered as early as next year.

Glasgow Labour MSP Anne McTaggart presented her Transplantation (Authorisation of Removal of Organs) Scotland Bill to Holyrood yesterday, which proposes to introduce a soft opt-out system where everyone would be considered a donor by default.

The current system requires people to join the NHS Organ Donation Register. Under the new system, the family of the deceased will be asked if they had expressed any objections during their lifetime.

The bill will now go through parliament but Ms McTaggart said she was “confident” of the success of the proposals, which she hopes will be considered before the next election.

Transplant recipients gathered outside the Scottish Parliament yesterday amidst 459 wooden crosses marking the number of patients who died this year due to lack of available organs for transplant – about 37 were believed to have died in Scotland.

Ms McTaggart said: “Three people die each day while waiting for organ transplants and that is just not good enough.

“It shouldn’t be something you only think about when it affects you and your family.”

She added: “There’s still a long way to go in the legislative process but I’m confident that the overwhelming evidence in favour of my proposals will ensure the success of my bill.”

Wales became the first place in the UK to introduce an opt-out policy in December last year and Northern Ireland is considering a similar approach.

Scotland has the highest number of donors in the UK, at around 41 per cent, but take-up is low as 95 per cent of Scots have said they support organ donation.

A survey commissioned by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) Scotland earlier this year found that 62 per cent of Scots supported a soft opt-out system.

David McColgan, policy and public affairs manager for BHF Scotland, said: “In Scotland we are used to being seen as pretty progressive yet we are lagging behind on this issue.

“Getting to this stage is brilliant and we are hopeful there is lots of support for it.”

Medical leaders have also backed the bill.

Dr Sue Robertson, a member of the British Medical Association’s Scottish council and a renal physician, said: “The BMA has long been a supporter of a move to an opt-out system of organ donation, not only because we believe that it would have a positive effect on donation rates, but also because it gives added protection to those who do not wish to donate.”

The Scottish Government said there has been a 63 per cent increase in the number of transplants carried out on Scottish patients, and the transplant waiting list is now at its lowest level to date.

Maureen Watt, minister for public health, said: “The Scottish Government welcomes any debate in relation to the important issues of organ donation and transplantation, and we will examine this bill to see if a convincing case can be made for a move to an opt-out system.”