Experts call for change in the rules on organ donation

The British Humanist Association (BHA) has commented on a new call by researchers writing in the British Medical Journal for a change to the organ donation system in the UK. Currently the UK operates an ‘opt-in’ organ donor scheme where people have to register independently with the organ donor register if they want to have their organs donated after they die.

In 2008 the Government’s Organ Donation Taskforce did not recommend the introduction of a system of presumed consent at that time, although it did recommend public investment into education about organ donation to encourage more people to donate organs.

Naomi Phillips, BHA Head of Public Affairs, said, ‘Most of us would not object to our body parts and organs being donated and used for good ends after we die. However, most of us do not put our names on the organ donation register, and that contributes to a huge shortfall in the number of organs available for transplantation. An increase in the number of organs available would not only help to prevent many more unnecessary deaths, but would help to combat the traffic in organs, and in human beings for the purpose of removal of organs, from outside of Europe. The trafficking in organs creates serious ethical issues and is contributing to systematic human rights violations of some of the most vulnerable people from across the world.’

Ms Phillips continued, ‘Policy-making ideally would be based on evidence, rational decision-making and that which seeks to maximise the well-being of individuals and so society more generally. If new evidence emerges that a change in the system of organ donation would increase the number of organs available for transplant, we will urge the Government to look again at reforming the current system.’

The BHA supports the British Medical Association’s suggested ‘soft’ system of ‘presumed consent’, whereby organ donation (for those over the age of 16) is the default position, but where relatives are told that the individual had not opted out and are asked if they are aware of any unregistered objection. This also removes the burden from relatives of having to guess at the wishes of the deceased.

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Read more about the BHA’s work and position on organ donation.

Join the Organ Donation Register.

The British Humanist Association (BHA) is the national charity representing the interests of the large and growing population of ethically concerned non-religious people living in the UK.