Here at LLTGL, the question often arises as to why we are not actively pushing for an opt-out system for organ donation. This is a brief explanation of opt-out and where we stand on the issue.
What is opt-out?
An opt-out, or presumed consent system, presumes that everyone wants to donate their organs unless they have stated otherwise. As it stands at the moment, it is presumed that you do not wish to donate your organs unless you state otherwise (i.e., sign up to the Organ Donor Register). If you have not signed the Organ Donor Register your next of kin would need to be consulted as to what your wishes may have been, should you ever be in a position to be an Organ Donor. Various transplant-related groups are pushing quite strongly for the UK to change its system to one of presumed consent.
What is LLTGL's stance on it?
LLTGL are not currently campaigning to change the UK system to one of presumed consent. This is for a variety of reasons.
At first glance, there is reason to assume that changing to an opt-out system would solve the organ shortage in the UK - though on closer inspection it is much more complex than this. The current Transplantation system in the UK is undergoing a huge overhaul, triggered by the release of the Organ Donor Taskforce report in January 2008. The report identified 14 key points within the system which need attention and reform, and started working on these immediately. One of the key points identified is infrastructure; we do not have the capacity to deal adequately with increased levels of organ donation. It is vital that this key point is one of the first to be rectified, and steps are already underway to improve things. You can read the full report here.
A major concern for us are the myths and misconceptions which surround Organ Donation. Until people are better educated we do not believe that radical changes to the law would be effective as people would still be making decisions based on erroneous information.
One of the leading countries in the world as regards Organ Donation rates (relative to population) is Spain. Spain does have an opt-out system, however Dr Rafael Matesanz, President of the Spanish National Transplant Organisation, states that the legislative shift to presumed consent is not what improved their donor rates:
"During the early 1990s we had a 30% refusal rate, at the moment it's about 15%," Dr Matesanz says. "Many countries try to increase organ donation through legislation. But a change to presumed consent doesn't improve the donation rate". (Read the full article here.)
If the UK changed to an opt-out system, it would be called a "soft" system, where despite the premise being that it is assumed the person wanted to donate their organs, the family would be asked whether they would like donation to go ahead. The family refusal rate in this country is currently 40%, and it could be the case that this would rise since the loved one would not have made an active move to join the Organ Donor Register, leaving the family less certain of their wishes.
For all the above reasons, we feel it is important to focus on improving the current system through attention to infrastructure, education, funding and staffing, before considering any radical changes in UK legislation.