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Portfolio Health Organ donation

Giving life Humza Yousaf MSP

Katie Mackintosh Health Correspondent

Plans for presumed consent in Wales have reopened the debate in Scotland

Across Scotland, more than 600 people are waiting for a life-saving transplant. Despite the sign-up rate for the Organ Donation Register in Scotland being at an “all-time high”, a shortage of human organs continues to contribute to their suffering. Over 120,000 people joined the register in Scotland last year and 37.8 per cent of the population is now signed up to save a life, compared with the UK average of 30 per cent. And yet it is still not enough. Every day in the UK three people die because they don’t get the organ they need in time. In Wales, the government believes it can

address the shortfall by becoming the first country in the UK to adopt an opt-out system for organ and tissue donation. Te Welsh Government published a white paper last November that set out its plans to introduce a system of presumed consent. It would mean the removal and use of organs and tissues from people aged 18 and over would be permissible unless the deceased objected during his or her lifetime. In the proposed soft opt-out system that the Welsh Government favours, families will also be involved in the decision-making process after death.

Te consultation on the proposals will close at the end of this month, but the issue has been a topic of discussion for a number of years in Wales. A consultation by the Welsh Government in 2009 showed 81 per cent of respondents were in favour of an opt-out system. In her forward to the consultation the minister for health and social services, Lesley Griffiths, explains it is these debates and consultations that convinced the government that “Wales is ready to take this step.” Tere are those, however, who have not been persuaded. Te Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, has been one of the most prominent and vocal objectors claiming that it will turn “volunteers into conscripts” and arguing that people’s organs should be donated to others

58 30 January 2012

“as a free gift” and not treated like assets of the state. In a joint statement issued last week, church leaders in Wales criticised the plan and expressed their concern that the “positive ethos of donation as a free gift is being endangered by an ill-judged if well-intentioned proposal”. Giving the sensitive nature of the subject,

“We believe Scotland can work with us on reforming the law in the UK on organ donation”

Dr Tony Calland, chair of the BMA’s Medical Ethics Committee advises that “small steps” and “simple and clear messages” are required and says the Welsh Government is right to be proceeding with caution. “I think there is a balance to be struck in the

proposals that have come out from the Welsh government between making sure the public understand what the proposals actually do and what the safeguards are, and putting enough political impetus behind it to make sure the whole thing happens,” he says. “I think the Welsh Government is being

very correct and very cautious in the way it is going about it. Tat is why it has had an expert reference group, that is why it has gone out to consultation, that is why it has held public meetings all round the principality to try and raise the profile of the issue, what it is, and what the changes actually mean for people.” Te BMA “strongly supports” moving to an opt-out system for organ donation. While Calland says “considerable improvements” have been made to the infrastructure of the organ donation

team following the 2008 report from the UK taskforce on organ donation, he believes more can be done and applauds Wales’ bravery in taking a lead on this issue in the UK. “I think Wales has been certainly brave in going ahead and making the decision. If it doesn’t get it right, it might well fall flat on its face, but if it does get it right it will provide a sort of template for other countries and nations to come and get on with it.” A bill will be introduced to the National Assembly next year and the opt-out system could be in place from as soon as 2015. While

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