An opt-out system of organ donation is to be considered during a public consultation on increasing donation rates.
Due to be launched by the end of the year, the 12-week Department of Health consultation will include proposals where every person would be deemed to have given consent for their organs to be donated unless they choose to opt out of doing so. How such a system could work in practice and what safeguards would be needed, including working with donors’ families, will also be considered.
The consultation was announced by the Prime Minister Theresa May at this year’s Conservative Party conference.
Increasing rates of donation from black and minority ethnic (BME) communities is a key issue, as these communities suffer long waiting times and have low consent rates, at around 35 per cent compared with 66 per cent in the white population. In 2016, around 6 per cent of deceased donors were from black and Asian communities, with people from those communities waiting on average six months longer for a kidney transplant than a white patient.
The consultation will also look at how the NHS will manage the issue of consent and how technology could help people discuss their donation preferences with family.
While organ donation rates in England are currently at a historical high, there are still more people waiting for transplants than available organs. Three people a day die while waiting for an organ.
Evidence suggests countries with opt-out laws have organ donation rates 25 to 30 per cent higher than those in countries requiring explicit consent.
Opt-out or presumed consent donation systems are becoming the norm in the UK. ‘Presumed consent’ was introduced in Wales in 2015 while the Scottish government announced plans for a similar system in June.
Such laws are also used in 25 European countries, although some are more prescriptive than others.