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Doctors to lobby for 'opt-out' organ donation system to boost transplants

Published 22/06/2016

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Doctors are to lobby ministers for an "opt-out" organ donation system across Britain.

The rest of the UK should follow in the footsteps of Wales where people automatically become donors after their death unless they object beforehand, the British Medical Association said.

The landmark change to the way organs are donated in Wales - from an "opt-in" to an "opt-out" system - has saved dozens of lives in the first six months since the law came into force, the Welsh Government has said.

Now delegates at the BMA's annual meeting in Belfast have voted in favour of a motion saying the doctors' union will actively lobby the Governments of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland to follow suit.

While the professional body has advocated the move for some time, it is the first time it has voted to actively lobby governments over the issue.

Dr John Chisholm, chair of the BMA's medical ethics committee, said: "Organ transplantation is an area that has seen amazing medical achievements but has not yet reached its full life-saving and life-transforming potential, so I'm pleased to see this motion pass today.

"The BMA has long believed that an opt-out system, as part of an overall package of measures to increase donation, would increase rates even further and save more lives. Indeed, the BMA has been lobbying for this change throughout the UK since 1999 and will continue to do so.

"As a doctor, it is difficult to see your patients dying and suffering when their lives could be saved or dramatically improved by a transplant.

"It is even more difficult when we know that lives are being lost unnecessarily because of poor organisation, lack of funding or because people who are willing to donate organs after their death simply never get around to making their views known, resulting in relatives making a decision without knowing whether the individual was willing to donate.

"Under an opt-out system there would be a presumption in favour of consent for organ donation unless a person had registered an objection in advance. If an objection had not been registered, family members would still be given the opportunity to confirm whether the individual had any unregistered objection, as an extra safeguard, before any procedures went ahead."

On average, t hree people in need of a transplant die every day in the UK.

At the moment there are 6,485 patients on the active UK waiting list for an organ transplant, 156 of whom are children.

A spokesman for NHS Blood and Transplant said: "We are grateful to everyone who donates their organs as people in need of transplants entirely depend upon organ donors.

"We welcome activity that encourages people to discuss organ donation and to donate their organs for transplant. Our role is to work within whatever legislative frameworks are in place across the UK.

"Unfortunately there is a shortage of people willing to donate their organs and on average across the UK three people die every day in need of a transplant. To save the lives of more people who need a transplant it is vital people discuss organ donation with their families and register their decision to donate on the NHS Organ Donor Register."

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