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A life-saving opt-out organ donor system

We support medical advances for the improvement of human health and wellbeing. Humanists do not believe that respect for the dead constitutes any reason to object to allowing a deceased person’s organs being used to help others, except when the deceased has expressed a contrary wish.

We campaign for a move away from an ‘opt-in’ system of consent to donating organs in favour of a ‘soft opt-out’ system where a deceased person over the age of 16 is presumed to have consented to their organs being donated, unless they had specifically stated otherwise and their family members know of no prior objection.

In recent years, this campaign has been largely successful. The law has moved from opt-in to soft opt-out in Wales (in 2015), Jersey (2019), and England (2020), with Scotland following suit in 2021. We continue to push to see similar changes enacted in Northern Ireland, Guernsey, and the Isle of Man.

In depth

The UK’s shortage of available donor organs is so severe that in 2018, three people on the waiting list for donor organs will die preventably in hospitals every day. The great irony here is that while 80% of people say they would happily donate their organs when they die, only 36% get around to registering as organ donors before they die. An opt-out system increases the number of organs available for transplant, saving lives.

This system has been in operation in Wales since 2015, and we played a key role in bringing this about. In 2019, the Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Act was passed by the UK Parliament introducing this system in England from 20 May 2020. We have produced a guide to help people understand how this change in law will affect them. Similar legislation is also in progress in the Scottish Parliament and the legislatures in the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.

While in the past the Northern Ireland Government has indicated support for a similar change, a private member’s bill to introduce it was rejected in January 2016. The Northern Ireland health department consulted on organ donation in early 2018, but has not proposed a move to a soft opt-out register.

What we’re doing

  • In 2021, we responded to a consultation in Northern Ireland on the introduction of an opt-out system.
  • In 2019, as part of the NHS Blood and Transplant’s organ donation deemed consent campaign advisory group, we advised NHS England on the creation of a year-long public awareness campaign for the pending change in the law.
  • In 2018, we briefed MPs and peers in support of the Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Act, which successfully introduced an opt-out system in England. We campaigned for the Government to bring forward this legislation, winning a successful policy change in 2017, advised civil servants on the issue earlier that year, and worked with moral philosophers to input into the UK Government’s consultation in 2018.
  • In 2018, in consultation with NHS Blood and Transplant, we launched a humanist-specific organ donation card to encourage non-religious people to consider becoming organ donors.
  • In 2018, we responded to consultations in the Isle of Man and Guernsey on the introduction of an opt-out system, and welcomed the passage of legislation on Jersey.
  • In 2010, we worked with NHS England’s Blood and Transplant section in support of their published leaflets  on humanist perspectives on organ donation.
  • In 2008, we gave oral evidence to the Welsh Assembly Government Committee Inquiry into Presumed Consent for Organ Donation, and written evidence to the Welsh Assembly Organ Donation Taskforce, helping usher in a change in the law.These leaflets encourage people to think about organ donation and consider some of the issues and benefits involved.

Get involved

The most important thing you can do is discuss your wishes regarding organ donation with your family and loved ones. It’s your body, your choice, and your chance to save a life.

You can also positively opt in to the organ donor register at https://www.organdonation.nhs.uk/.

Live in England? We have produced a useful guide to the opt-out system in England which will be operating from April 2020 and how this change will affect you. You can also make your views abundantly clear by carrying a humanist-specific organ donation card. These can be downloaded for free from the NHS website.

You can support Humanists UK by becoming a member. That helps in itself, and you can help even more by supporting our campaigns in the ways suggested above. But campaigns also cost money – quite a lot of money – and we also need financial support. You can make a donation to Humanists UK.

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