Opt-out organ donation rejected in England

Over 15 million people are registered organ donors, but this only represents 25% of the population.

Organ donation is a topic that comes and goes in the news, and in parliament.

In 2008, there was a vote in the House of Commons as to decide whether or not to bring in opt-out organ donation, in place on the current scheme of opt-in donation. The majority voted against the change.

A few years on and the Welsh government are now running the idea through their parliament.

If this succeeds in Wales, maybe England will rethink their decision.

Professor of Health Care Law at the University of Southampton, Jonathan Montgomery

Jonathan Montgomery, proud to be a donor
Jonathan Montgomery, proud to be a donor

, was a member of the organ donation task force in 2008 that considered the opt-out scheme.

He explained: “When we looked at it in England, we didn’t think legal change was the key, but change to the NHS system was the key. In Wales they’ve taken a different view”.

There were many reasons against the opt-out system for England. One of the reasons included the fact that it might undermine donation as a ‘gift’, reducing trust in NHS professionals and as a result a reduction in the number of donations.

Like most things in today’s society, there are many myths that surround organ donations, creating reasons for people to be against donations. A common myth is that doctors will make less of an effort to keep alive, of course is not true.

TV programmes and films do not help to disburse the myths. “There are science-fiction films that suggest there are body farms for organs, it doesn’t work like that” assures Jonathan, “that doesn’t stop it making a good film, but it isn’t reality”.

Ethically, it is difficult to fault an opt-out organ donation system. Jonathan explains, “The key is to get more organs and the evidence suggests that people are anxious about the idea of being forced to do something”. Rather than forcing people to donate, he thinks it would be more beneficial to “focus on making sure we can use the organs that are available and encourage people to sign up to the organ donor register”.

Sue Pitkin, a trust chaplain at Southampton General Hospital, says that although her and her family are all organ donors, she is on the fence as to whether England should become an opt-out country. “For other families it may cause a lot of distress”.

The current opt-in system often leaves relatives in a tough position. If the person who has passed away did not clarify whether or not they wanted to donate their organs, and did not sign up to the register, the decision goes to the family.

“We have a very, very high refusal rate from families in the UK. It is most high when we don’t know what the deceased person wanted”. Campaigns are currently being run throughout England to ensure that families know that their relatives would like to be a donor, and when they do know that, they are most likely to say yes” Jonathan explained.

Sue Pitkin believes organ donation is a good thing
Sue Pitkin believes organ donation is a good thing

Sue is the chaplaincy representative on the hospitals organ donation committee. She hears a lot about what goes on and communicates with the specialist nurses that deal with donation issues. “They would do the same thing I would, help them to come to the right decision for them. When a family do come to me, I tend to encourage them to talk about it with specialist nurses”.

Ben Gill, 19, from Southampton signed up to be a donor when he applied for his driving licence. “I strongly feel, even as someone religious, that it is the right thing to do. Being able to bless and help others is something I strongly believe we should all be aiming to do in our daily lives” he commented. Although he thinks the system should remain as it is and the decision should not be forced on to anyone. He continued, “There needs to be an increase in awareness and the benefit that comes from organ donation”.

Live donations are on the rise too. “Live organ donations are becoming a much more significant part of the picture, and in fact over-take in relation to some decease organ donations” revealed Jonathan. Although organ trafficking is a worry that comes with live donations. “We work very hard to stop that happening in this country but you can’t entirely rule it out” he commented.

If you would like to sign up to become a donor, or double check that you are one, visit: http://www.organdonation.nhs.uk/.

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