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March 2020

Law changes on organ donation



As of 15 March, all adults in England are now automatically considered potential organ donors following the introduction of the Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Bill.

The Bill changes the law from an opt in system – the familiar system where people carry a card to indicate that they are willing to be considered for organ donation – to one where people have to actively opt out if they do not want to donate their organs after their death.

Yvonne Carratt, director and specialist in wills, trusts and probate law at JMP Solicitors, described the legislation as a ‘really positive change’ that would help to save a huge number of lives because the opt in rate under the old law was so low.

She said: ‘It’s important that everyone is aware of the changes and of all the options available to them. We hope to see a decrease in the number of people on the organ waiting list once the Act is implemented.’

Editor-in-chief and medical ethicist Beverley Bostock-Cox commented: ‘Although it is not always easy to discuss issues related to death and dying, general practices nurses, who are involved with families from cradle to grave, are well placed to support people who need more information to understand the opt-out system. Although some people may be uncomfortable with a ruling which assumes consent, the reality is that most people consent by intent but never get around to making this clear to their loved ones. The new legislation removes the need for difficult decisions, particularly in cases of unexpected deaths, and ensures that some good can come from a devastating situation.’

Recent figures show that while 80% of people in England support organ donation, only 38% have opted in to donate. There are currently more than 6,000 waiting for an organ transplant in the UK, and three people die each day waiting for an organ to become available.

Children under the age of 18, people who lack the mental capacity to understand the changes for a significant period before death, and people who haven’t lived in England for at least 12 months before their death are excluded from the provisions.

People who wish to opt out can do so at the NHS Organ Donor Register, at https://www.organdonation.nhs.uk/register-your-decision/