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Organ Donar “opt out” System Rejected

Posted Nov 21 2008 4:28pm

The leader of a Government taskforce has today advised against relying on “presumed consent” in reference to obtaining more organs to be used for transplant.

Elisabeth Buggins from the UK Organ Donation Taskforce, which was created by the Government to help get more donars, comments that data collected by her committee led them to believe that the “opt out” system
was ineffective for increasing the number of organs needed for transplant.

She told BBC Breakfast, “The Government asked us to look at presumed consent. We have looked at it very carefully, we have amassed over 400 pages of evidence from around the world,”

“Our conclusion, quite clearly, is that “opt out” is not the best way of increasing the number of organs available.”

The committee, who are an independent advisory, make this suggestion, at a time when Prime Minister Gordon Brown seems to prefer a change in the current law, which would allow people to openly opt-out of donating organs or body parts after their death for transplant.

Mrs Buggins added that Spain has the best track record of organ donation world wide.

She said, “Their leader says that presumed consent hasn’t made any difference,”

“They had presumed consent from 1979 to 1989 and the donation rate was almost flat. Then they made the changes which we are just in the process of beginning and their donation rate is now three times as good as ours.

“We want to see that happen in the UK.”

She added, “We have found that doctors are worried that it might erode trust, if we brought in presumed consent, that donor families would like to have the choice, they don’t want to feel bounced into the decision.

“People who have received an organ, said that the concept of a gift, of that organ being freely given, by the family, by the donor, is very important to them.”

Currently there are around 8,000 people in Britain who require an organ transplant. However only 3,000 operations take place each year and an estimated 1,000 people die in the UK every year after not receiving a much needed transplant.

There is currently a lot of opposition from patients’ groups against the system of “presumed consent”, and Gordon Brown voted against the proposed change in law in 2004.

However, he has indicated that his opinion could change.

He said, “A system of this kind seems to have the potential to close the aching gap between the potential benefits of transplant surgery in the UK and the limits imposed by our current system of consent.”

Mrs Buggins spoke on BBC Radio 4 Today programme, asking for more co-ordinators to help families who have lost a loved one, a large publicity campaign and more people who were willing to obtain organs from donars.

She also wanted to “dispel the myths” about people having to donate their organs and have them removed before they had even passed away.

However, Dr Tony Calland, chairman of the British Medical Association (BMA) medical ethics committee advised that presumed consent could tackle the lack of organs and help prevent unnecessary deaths.

He told the Today programme, “Every year people die because a donor cannot be found to allow their transplant to go ahead,”

“Evidence from other countries has shown that a system of presumed consent can address the shortage of donor organs and can save lives.

“The BMA supports a “soft” system of presumed consent, where individuals who do not want to donate their organs have a formal mechanism for registering that objection and where families are consulted to identify any unregistered objection.

“We believe this is more likely than the current system to ensure that the individual’s wishes are respected.

“Of course a system of presumed consent is not in itself a magical cure and the BMA has already stated that it strongly supports the raft of measures already proposed by the task force.

“We very much hope that these proposals will greatly enhance donation rates and the BMA will do whatever it can to help promote that goal.

“We still believe, however, that in the longer-term, the UK will need to consider legislative change.

“Public support for such a change is already growing but we need to continue to raise awareness and encourage public debate.

“We look forward to reading the full report and are committed to working with the Taskforce to achieve our common goal - to improve organ donation in the UK.”

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