Progress on opt-out organ donation legislation in Scotland and England

A BILL introducing a soft opt-out system for organ and tissue donation has been debated in the Scottish Parliament and similar legislation for England looks set to clear parliamentary hurdles.

MSPs are being asked to agree to the general principles of the Human Tissue (Authorisation) (Scotland) Bill. The Scottish government has confirmed that under the proposed legislation, if an adult does not proactively opt in nor out of donation they may be deemed to have authorised donation for transplantation.

The Bill also includes safeguards to ensure that donation will not go ahead where it would be clearly against the person’s wishes.

The new legislation in England was introduced as a Private Members' Bill by Geoffrey Robinson MP and the system would come into effect next year. Consent will be presumed unless people have opted out. Individuals will be encouraged to register their consent for organ donation – or to opt out. Relatives can still block a donation so advance discussion will be important to ensure families carry out an individual’s wishes.

Scottish Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick said: "In Scotland we have seen tremendous progress over the last decade, with the number of donors, organ and tissue transplants all increasing. There has also been a significant increase in the number of people registering their donation decision, with 51 per cent of the Scottish population on the NHS Organ Donor Register – the highest rate of all UK countries.

"However, there are still too many people waiting for transplants, with an average of more than 500 people waiting for an organ transplant at any one point in Scotland. That’s why we are doing all we can to increase organ and tissue donation, and while no single measure can achieve this, evidence shows that opt-out systems can make a difference as part of a package of measures.

"Families will continue to have an important role in the donation process and will be able to provide information about their loved ones views. I would encourage people to make a decision about donation and tell their family."

John Forsythe, Medical Director of organ donation and transplantation for NHS Blood and Transplant, commented: "It looks as if the new 'Opt Out' legislation in England will become law in the next few days. We very much hope that once this new law comes into force in Spring 2020, we will see similar results to those we have witnessed in Wales – with more people and families agreeing to donation, enabling more lifesaving transplants to take place.

"We will work closely with the Government to ensure that the introduction of the new opt-out approach is implemented successfully. Between now and then we will carry out an information campaign to make sure everyone knows about the change in the law, as well as the choice and options available to them, and that effective measures are in place to enable those who do not wish to donate to record their decision and to ensure that this decision is respected."