The Government has announced plans to move to an ‘opt-out’ system of consent for organ and tissue donation in England. This will mean that most adults are considered willing to donate their organs unless they explicitly record their wish not to. Wales introduced an opt-out system in 2011, and Scotland also looks likely to do so.
Legislation to introduce the new opt-out system will be debated in Parliament later this year, with plans for it to come into effect in 2020.
Responding to the announcement, Katharine Wright, Assistant Director of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, said:
The Nuffield Council on Bioethics strongly supports organ donation where this meets with the wishes of the donor. At the moment, there is no evidence to indicate that introducing opt-out will, on its own, increase organ donation rates. No one really knows what the effect of it will be, and we are concerned that the promises being made by the Government about what it can achieve may be misleading. But evidence does show that more public awareness, more investment in staff training, more specialist nurses and ensuring that all families are central to the donation process would do more to help those in need of an organ.
For an opt-out system to operate ethically, people need to be fully informed so they can make an active choice about whether or not to donate. So it is vital that the Government commits to improving public information and education – not just at the point when the system changes but on an ongoing basis. Families must remain at the heart of the process, and be properly supported. Critically, any changes to the system must operate in a way that will not risk undermining what we already have: public trust in our donation and transplant system.
The Government’s consultation on opt-out received over 17,000 responses. When its consultation was launched, we published this blog, which draws on the conclusions of our in-depth inquiry into organ and tissue donation.