Opt-out of organ donation

By Paul Gimson, Director for Wales

Those unsure about how far the powers of devolved Governments extend, may want to consider the following:  the Welsh Government  has recently issued a white paper the objective of which is “to increase the number of organ and tissue donors in Wales, allowing more lives to be saved and to improve the quality of life of others.”

How does Welsh Government plan to do this?  The paper proposes a “soft opt-out system of posthumous organ and tissue donation”, which essentially means that unless a person registers their objections in advance of dying, it is assumed that consent to donate has been given.

So why is this happening?  The white paper explains that in Wales, in 2010/11, 51 people died whilst on the waiting list or following removal from the list due to deterioration in their health.  Across the United Kingdom more than 1,000 people die each year while waiting for an organ transplant.  At the same time, other people die in circumstances where donation of their organs and tissues would be possible, but does not happen – not because the deceased objected to donation, but because they never got round to signing the NHS Organ Donor Register (ODR) or informing their relatives of their wishes.

Not surprisingly, this issue has been the subject of some heated discussion in Wales. On the one hand, there are those who see it as a positive and life-saving step, but there are also those not in favour; those who think it undermines the altruistic approach of the current system and question if it actually will increase the number of organs available .

Whatever you might think about this individual policy, it is commendable that the Welsh Government is taking such bold action to tackle a major health issue, and serves to highlight the growing power and divergence in policy of the Welsh Government from the rest of the UK.  It should make those who question the reality of devolution look up – in Wales those powers now follow you from cradle to the grave – and beyond.

2 comments on “Opt-out of organ donation

  1. Good post. It will be interesting to see whether the UK Government follows Wales’ lead if this programme is successful. My perception is that a lack of people joining the donor register is down to a deficit of understanding – I hope that people actually understand what this change means, and a lot of that will be down to a good awareness campaign by the Welsh Government. Here’s hoping.

    • Hi Al,

      Thanks for the comment.

      Some of the background material to the proposal I recall acknowledges what you say – the deficit in organs is not necessarily that people don’t want to donate, but that they hadn’t made their wishes clear (either to relatives or via the register). It’s important therefore whatever the outcome of this proposal that people continue to make their wishes known to friends and family, and make their intentions clear through the register (or whatever succeeds it).

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