Statement on ethical requirements for opt-out organ donation as Lords debate legislation

Today, the Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Bill moves to the report stage in the House of Lords, taking us a step closer to a change in the law to introduce an opt-out system of consent for organ donation in England.

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics strongly supports organ donation where it is in line with people’s wishes. Throughout the Bill’s passage we have highlighted the importance of infrastructures and resources needed to ensure the ethical introduction of an opt-out system for organ donation. In particular, we have drawn attention to the need for sustained public awareness campaigns, and appropriate support for families to remain central to the organ donation process. We were reassured at the last reading of the Bill that these important aspects had been acknowledged and commitments made.

We also welcome the commitment to training more specialist nurses for organ donation, as this will be integral to the success of any organ donation system. Evidence shows that family consent rates rise from as low as 22% where no such support is available, to 70% when a specialist nurse for organ donation is present.

It is vital to have measures in place that encourage people to express and document their wishes about organ donation during their lifetime, and efforts will be required on an ongoing basis to ensure that the public remains well-informed.

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