The Prime Minister announced plans for a new law to automatically place those in England on the organ donation register, rather than the current system where people need to ‘opt-in’.
The move follows Wales, which has operated with an ‘opt-out’ law since 2015, and Scotland, which will introduce the same system in the near future.
While the exact criteria of the new law is yet to be revealed, campaigners and transplant recipients have welcomed the news.
A shortage of organ donors means three people die each day, on average, in need of a transplant.
Speaking at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, May said 500 people died last year because a suitable organ wasn’t available, and 6,500 patients are currently waiting on the transplant list.
“To address this challenge, that affects all communities in our country, we will change that system, shifting the balance of presumption in favour of organ donation,” she revealed.
From sources a case has been studied and walked out with an observation of one of the estimated 6,500 people on the transplant waiting list is Michelle Russell, 36, who was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver, portal vein thrombosis and a rare form of blood cancer in 2013. She has been on the list for 12 months.
In an emotional video diary shared during Organ Donation Week (4-10 September), Michelle, who is from Hampshire, explained how her diagnosis had changed her life: she lost her dream job in the Royal Navy and now lives on a daily cocktail of pills.
Discussing what it’s like to constantly wait for the phone call telling her an organ has become available, she told sources: “You feel as though it’ll never, ever come. I feel as though my name’s in a hat and I’ve just got to wait for it to be pulled out.”
Michelle described the ‘opt-out’ system as a “lifeline” to people like herself, who are waiting on the list, adding that the proposed law change will “lift a huge weight off the shoulders of transplant recipients and their families”.
She said: “Far fewer people will opt out than those who opted in, which will mean more organs available and more people being given the gift of life – a gift that is precious and rare.”
With PPD, donor-recipient pairs who are incompatible due to antibodies, blood group or are unable to donate directly to each other, are registered in a national scheme to achieve compatible transplants with other pairs. When two pairs are involved it is called ‘paired’ donation, while more than two pairs is called ‘pooled’ donation.
The IT product sales specialist said the proposed law change will mean a better quality of life for people who rely on dialysis while they wait for a transplant.
The Welsh government said after it changed to the system, dozens more lives were saved in as little as six months.
Commenting on how the new law will work in England, Penny Richardson, media spokesperson for NHS Blood and Transplant, told sources : “The criteria will depend on what the country decides and legislates for.”
While it is a major step forward for campaigners, the proposed law change won’t, however, change the fact a person’s family members can overrule their wishes to donate organs.
Currently in England, if a person signs up to the donor register they have legally consented to donation. In order to make sure that the donor’s organs are safe for transplant, specialist nurses need to talk to families to ask about the lifestyle and medical history of the donor and, if the family disagrees with donation at this point, the donation does not proceed.
Under the ‘opt-out’ law, a person who hasn’t ‘opted out’ would be legally deemed to consent to donation taking place, which is positive. However families can still overrule the deceased wishes, resulting in donation not going ahead.
In light of this, Sally Johnson, director of organ donation and transplantation, told sources people still need to be having these vital conversations with family members.
“We all want to see more lives saved and welcome anything which encourages more people to share their personal organ donation decision with their family,” she said.
“We hope this announcement will drive a national conversation about organ donation. Whatever legislation is in place, telling your family of your organ donation decision lets them know what you want to happen and means your family don’t have to make a difficult decision when they are grieving.”
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