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Opt-out organ donation gets Scottish Parliament support

MSPs voted to support a bill hoping to increase the number of organ transplants by introducing an opt-out system for donors.

Health Minister Joe Fitzpatrick introduced the bill to change the law on organ donation in Scotland (Scottish Government/PA)
Health Minister Joe Fitzpatrick introduced the bill to change the law on organ donation in Scotland (Scottish Government/PA)

Opt-out organ donation has been supported by the Scottish Parliament in an attempt to increase the number of potential life-saving donors.

A bill to change the law so that people are assumed to be consenting organ donors when they die unless they have expressed a wish not to donate organs or tissue has been approved at its first stage in Holyrood.

Roughly 500 people in Scotland are on an organ transplant waiting list at any one time and the number of suitable donors is not currently enough to meet demand.

Introducing the “soft opt-out system”, Health Minister Joe Fitzpatrick told MSPs that “too many people are still waiting for the organ transplant that could save their lives.”

Mr Fitzpatrick said: “The transplantation of donated organs and tissues is one of the most incredible developments in modern healthcare.

“It reflects the best of humanity – responding to acute need with incredible generosity – and it’s a testament to the wonders of the National Health Service, the skills of our nurses and clinicians, and the organised efforts of everyone who works to make these life-changing gifts possible.”

He added: “Only around 1% of people die in circumstances where donation is possible, but there are steps we can take to allow more of that 1% to donate.

“This bill amends the existing Scottish legislation by introducing “deemed authorisation”.

“In practice this means that where a person was not known to have any objection to donation, donation may proceed.”

Under the proposed rules, anyone over the age of 16 who has lived in Scotland for at least a year and is considered capable of making an informed decision on the subject would be considered to be a consenting donor, unless they have opted out.

The fundamental purpose of this bill is clearly to enable an increase in rates of organ donation in order to save lives Lewis Macdonald MSP

Before transplanting any tissue or organs, the NHS would have to check for the wishes of any potential donor.

Lewis Macdonald, the convener of the Health and Sport Committee, said: “The fundamental purpose of this bill is clearly to enable an increase in rates of organ donation in order to save lives.

“The evidence we heard at stage one was that donation rates have benefited from the changes to law and practice which followed the 2006 Act, but they have not yet ended the tragedy of people dying while on the waiting list for an organ transplant.

“In Scotland around 50% of people have opted in, but that is still not enough.”

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Miles Briggs said wishes of the donor’s family should be “at the heart” of the new legislation.

He said: “The role of the donor family is fundamental to the success of any donation going forward and will be central to the success of the Bill.”

Questioned if the wishes of the donor family should supersede those of the donor, Mr Briggs said this is where “difficulty” lies.

However, he said his party welcomed the publication of the Bill, adding: “We believe all options should be considered to increase organ donation and we’ll engage in the legislation process before the final vote at stage three.

“The SNP Government must also ensure that the comprehensive information and adequate infrastructure, which we will need, is in place so donors and families are fully informed and organs which are donated are able to be transplanted successfully in the future.

“Someone in the UK dies every day waiting for an organ transplant. We have the opportunity, I believe, to change that.”

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Scottish Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Monica Lennon (right) supports the principles of the bill (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Labour’s Monica Lennon said her party also supported the general principles of the Bill and highlighted that family refusal leads to the loss of approximately 100 donors in Scotland each year.

“I hope we can all agree that a person desperately waiting on an organ transplant which could be the difference between life and death shouldn’t miss out simply because many of us never got round to opting in to be an organ donor,” she said.

“It might not be an easy conversation to have, it might feel morbid to discuss it but it is important we overcome this stigma and make our wishes known to our loved ones.”

Only one MSP voted against the Bill, 107 supported it, while two abstained.

Press Association

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