Bid to change organ law ‘could save 500 lives a year’

  • 23 February 2018

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House of Commons

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The MP said he had been “guilty” for some time of thinking of registering but not doing so

Up to 500 lives could be saved a year if laws on organ donation in England are changed, MPs have been told.

MPs are debating changing the rules on consent so people would expressly have to “opt out” if they did not want their organs used after their death.

There are 25 million people on the organ donation register but 6,500 patients are waiting for a transplant.

Labour MP Geoffrey Robinson said this was “not good enough” and more people should have a “second chance” at life.

Mr Robinson’s private members’ bill would bring England into line with Wales, which already has an opt-out system for consent – with exemptions for under-18s and adults not able to make informed decisions.

At the moment in England, organs can only be used if explicit approval is given, either by signing the register or if the deceased had told a family member of their desire to donate.

The UK government is consulting on introducing an opt-out system while Scotland is currently looking at bringing forward similar legislation.

Mr Robinson told MPs that while levels of organ donation were considerably higher than a decade ago, the UK had some of the lowest rates of consent in Western Europe and a “certain inertia” had set in.

He quoted British Heart Foundation research that suggested that while 90% of people were in favour of the principle of organ donation, only about 35% had actively given their consent.

According to NHS figures, he said about 500 people were dying every year due to a lack of suitable donors.

“This is not good enough. I believe we can do better and be pioneers in making transplants more effective.”

‘Second chance’

While changing the law would “not make an immediate difference”, he said if the bill was passed by the end of the year it would increase the availability of organs over time and help give more people “a new lease of life”.

He also said he hoped it would make it easier for families to openly discuss the issue.

“None of us likes to think about the worst happening,” he said. “It is challenging to have conversations with loved ones about their wishes after death.

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“We know that it is at that moment when families are confronted with the awful situation that very often they back off, sometimes over-riding the wishes of the deceased who happens to be a registered donor.”

Under the bill’s “soft opt-out” proposals, the wishes of families and next of kin would continue to be respected, so removal of organs would not go ahead without their support.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn made a brief appearance in the Commons to urge MPs to support the “wonderful” measure which he said would “save an awful lot of people’s lives”.

Former Conservative minister Cheryl Gillan said she backed the bill, which she said had been a real success after it was introduced in Wales.

But she she believed families should have a “certain latitude” to change their mind at what was obviously a very sensitive time following the death of a loved-one.

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