Drew Smith: Play cards right to have opt-out donor system

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THE Welsh Assembly recently voted by an overwhelming majority to approve Welsh Labour’s Human Transplantation Bill, which will move organ donation in Wales to an opt-out system. This pioneering move is something that I hope can be brought forward in 
Scotland.

Scotland has made real progress in increasing the number of potential donors on the register. However, there are still too many people dying whilst on a waiting list for a transplant.

At present, there are around 600 patients on such lists and in the last year for which figures are available 34 Scots died before a donated organ could be found. Faced with these tragedies, and following the example set by Wales, I believe we can, and should, be bolder.

Currently, carrying a donor card – something 90 per cent of us say we support but far fewer actually get round to doing – does not guarantee that your wishes, your consent, is respected. Families are, at the worst possible time, asked to make the decision for us. Even amongst those of us who do carry the card, we do not always find it easy, or find the time, to discuss the issues with our families and to be clear with them about our wishes.

The result is that some potentially live-saving donations may not take place. That is not to blame families who, if they feel uncertain, are understandably likely to opt not to donate.

In contrast, an opt-out system guarantees that those who decide against donation during life are able to add their names to a register which means their families will not be faced with the difficult decision at the end of our life. Put simply, opt-out provides certainty for those who don’t want to donate that the donation will not be considered at all.

I believe that a “soft” opt-out system would be best. This system means that families will still be involved in the procedure and will be fully able to stop donation if they are aware that an individual would have objected – for example, on religious, but in fact on any, grounds – even if they didn’t get round to registering this decision on the opt-out register.

I have said that I will consult on an opt-out donation bill in Scotland if the Scottish Government rules it out when it publishes its own plans for reviewing the organ donation system, which is expected in coming weeks.

I know that not everyone agrees, and that this is a difficult call on a sensitive subject, but I think that Scotland should have this debate and decide for ourselves if the current system really can be improved any further, or if an opt-out law would save more lives. I believe there is an appetite for this discussion.

In the meantime, our system remains opt-in, so if you are one of the 90 per cent who support life-saving organ donation, go to www.organ
donationscotland.org to sign up – and don’t forget to tell your loved ones about your decision.

• Drew Smith is a Labour list MSP for Glasgow.