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Success! Government to introduce opt-out organ donation in England

The Government has announced that it will introduce an opt-out organ donation system in England by the spring of 2020. This means a deceased person will be assumed to have consented to organ donation unless they have previously opted out. Specialist nurses will discuss donation with families so that an individual’s wishes are respected. A similar system has been operating in Wales since 2015. Humanists UK, which has campaigned for this change for the last ten years, is delighted by this announcement which is expected to dramatically increase the number of organs available for donation, saving lives.

Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Mental Health and Inequalities, Jackie Doyle-Price, commented, ‘Organ donation saves lives. We believe that by making these changes, we can save as many as 700 more lives every year…But organ donation remains a gift. I want to encourage people who wish to give life in the event of their death to take the time to record their wishes and discuss it with their family.’

Earlier this year, Humanists UK met with with leading civil servants to discuss the ethical and practical implications of introducing an opt-out system in England. Humanists UK also submitted a detailed response to the consultation held by Department of Health and Social on this issue in February, in conjunction with the Richard Norman, Professor Emeritus of Moral Philosophy at the University of Kent.

Humanists UK has previously welcomed a similar announcement from the Scottish Government and campaigned for the introduction of opt-out systems in Jersey, Guernsey, and the Isle of Man. In 2008, Humanists UK made a submission to a House of Lords inquiry into organ donation, was consulted by the Organ Donation Taskforce, and gave oral evidence to the Welsh Assembly Committee Inquiry into Presumed Consent for Organ Donation.

England currently operates an opt-in system, in which prospective organ donors must sign up to an organ donor register. However, many people who are happy to donate their organs after death either do not sign up for the register or do not discuss the matter with relatives or friends, and so medical professionals are not aware that they wished to consent. The British Medical Association estimates that although 66% of people would wish to donate, only 39% actually have signed the register.

Humanists UK’s campaigns Officer Rachel Taggart-Ryan commented,We are delighted that after many years of campaigning the Government has announced that it will introduce an opt-out organ donation system. The evidence strongly suggests that this move improves willingness to donate both from individuals and their families, cuts transplant waiting times, and better reflects the will of the majority of people who wish to donate. Most importantly it will reduce the suffering and save the lives of those in need of a transplant.’

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Campaigns Officer Rachel Taggart-Ryan on rachel@humanism.org.uk or 07951 176 245.

You can join the Organ Donor Register and help save lives after your death at https://www.organdonation.nhs.uk/

Read Humanists UK’s response to the Government Consultation: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018-01-08-RTR-Organ-donation-consultation.pdf

Read more about our campaigns work on organ donation: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/public-ethical-issues/organ-donation/

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

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