Organs opt-out ‘could see donations rise by a third’

The organ donation row rumbles on. Picture: Getty
The organ donation row rumbles on. Picture: Getty
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Plans to move to an opt-out system for organ donations could boost the rate of donations by almost a third, MSPs have been told.

Labour MSP Anne McTaggart told Holyrood’s health committee that her Transplantation Bill was “absolutely” necessary as the current opt-in arrangement “is not working”.

The legislation proposes a move from a system in which people have to actively join the NHS Organ Donation Register to a ‘’soft’’ opt-out approach in an effort to tackle a shortage of organs.

Lindsay Paterson, policy manager for the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, said: “At a time when it’s very stressful, when for example there’s been a traumatic accident, something which is totally unexpected, a family who are visiting a patient potentially at the end of their life will be obviously very upset and conversations around organ donation have to be very sensitive.

“I think at a time when a family are potentially very stressed, everything is happening very quickly, a clinician who is speaking to that family and who is caring for the patient would find it very difficult to try and go against the wishes of the family at that particularly distressing time.”

Ms McTaggart told the committee: “We do need to increase transplantation. The first-quarter figures for this year show we are heading for an even bigger decrease in deceased donor rates of ten per cent. We have to do something different, whatever we are doing just now is not working.

“International evidence shows us that a 25 per cent to 30 per cent increase will happen if we move to a soft opt-out system.”

Under the plans, organs and tissues could be removed from an adult after death if they had not registered or expressed an objection during their lifetime.

Families would also be consulted on the death of a loved one to establish any objection that had not been registered.

Dr James Cant, director of British Heart Foundation Scotland, said that 46 per cent of families had refused a donation in 2014-15 because they did not know what their relative’s wishes were.

He said: “The conversations are not taking place and the rate of family refusal is actually on the increase at this point in time.

“The single most important thing this legislation could do would be to change the framework to have the default position that there would be an assumption people had opted into the system, because otherwise we’re relying upon conversations which aren’t taking place or conversations which don’t take place in calm conditions, which don’t translate into actions when we have the death of the person.”