Welsh organ donation law could help hundreds every year

Posted on October 17th, 2012 in Uncategorized

A Welsh law on organ donation that would introduce a controversial opt-out system could create an extra 15 donors a year, the Welsh Government today said.

Every single donor can transform the lives of up to nine people who are on the waiting list for transplant organs.

If the draft Human Transplantation (Wales) Bill is passed, Wales will become the first part of the UK to change the organ donation system.

It is expected to cost £5m to implement between now and 2016-17; half of which will be spent on publicity and an education campaign explaining how the new system will work.

The Church in Wales, Catholic Church and the Wales Eastern Orthodox Mission were united in opposing the draft plans, describing them as “ill-judged”.

In a statement, the churches said that “organ and tissue donation should be freely given, not assumed”.

Supporters of the proposed Welsh law say that if just one extra person donates their organs as a result it will pay for the new policy, in terms of the reduced costs of life-long healthcare.

Launching the draft Bill, which will be subject to another period of public consultation, Health Minister Lesley Griffiths said: “We are seeking a change in the law to increase the number of organ and tissue donors and to save lives.

“One donor can improve or save the lives of up to nine other people by donating their organs and many more through the donation of their tissues.

“Wales has seen a 49% increase in donation rates since 2008, which is a huge achievement to be proud of.

“However, there is still a shortage of organs for transplant. In 2011-12. sadly 37 people in Wales died while waiting for an organ.

“I believe the time has come to introduce a change in the law, together with an extensive communication and education programme encouraging people to make a decision and to ensure their families know their wishes.”

The draft Bill proposes creating a single register, which will record the names of those people, over the age of 18 and who have lived in Wales for six months, who want to opt-in to donation – to be known as express consent – and those who want to opt-out from the process altogether.

Those people who do neither will be deemed to have given their consent and made a positive decision to donate their organs and tissues.

Families will have no legal right to veto donation but, as now, donation will not go ahead if they are strongly opposed to it.

Currently, it is estimated about 40% of families refuse permission to donate organs for transplant when approached. Evidence from other countries which also have opt-out, suggest that figure will fall to 10%.

In a written statement to AMs, Mrs Griffiths said: “ It will be treated as a wish of the deceased to be a donor and a decision which families will be sensitively encouraged to accept.”

It is expected such a change in the law will increase the number of organ donors by about 25% – about 15 donors. This would equate to some 45 extra organs available for transplant.

These organs would be available to people on the UK transplant waiting list and would be allocated on the basis of compatibility and clinical need.

A final Bill is expected later this year following the public consultation, which runs until September. If passed, it is expected the new opt-out system will be introduced in 2015.

An earlier public consultation on plans to move to opt out was largely supportive of the idea, but there remains opposition to such a change.

There are concerns about the ethics of presumed consent and whether NHS Wales has the infrastructure to deal with an increase in organs for transplant – only kidney and pancreas transplants are carried out in Wales.

The Church has been at the heart of opposition to moves to introduce opt-out in Wales.

The Church in Wales, Catholic Church and the Wales Eastern Orthodox Mission were united in opposing the draft plans, describing them as “ill-judged”.

And in a joint statement in January, they said a move to opt-out could undermine both the positive image of organ donation and Wales’ reputation.

Responding to the draft Bill published yesterday(MON), a statement from the Bishops of the Church in Wales, said: “Organ donation is a way of expressing solidarity with our fellow human beings, and sharing with them the gift of life, even after our own death.

“Signing up to the organ donor register is something that all Christians should be encouraged to do. But like any other altruistic gift, organ and tissue donation should be freely given, not assumed.

“We are pleased the Welsh Government has taken note of the responses made to the first stage of the consultation process. There is now much more clarity about the system, especially about recognising the importance of the involvement of families at the time of donation.

“However, the system that will have to be introduced to ensure that potential donors fulfil all the necessary criteria – residence, age, mental capacity, evidence of wishes – will be complicated.

“It would be better to invest resources in wide-reaching public awareness campaigns to encourage more people to become voluntary donors.

“Evidence that any system of ‘automatic’ donation increases the supply of organs – whether it’s called ‘presumed’ consent, ‘deemed’ consent, or ‘opt-out’ – is still disputable.”

Meanwhile, the Christian charity CARE, said the draft Bill is “taking Wales down a dangerous path” and it also believes it is unlikely it will increase the number of organ donors.

Dr Dan Boucher, the charity’s policy officer in Wales, said: “Although the Welsh Government’s heart is in the right place, the policy is not.

“A system of presumed consent is highly concerning both in terms of its ethics and efficacy; CARE will be responding to the Welsh Government’s consultation and urging it to reconsider its proposals.”

Welsh Conservative AMs will be given a free vote on the Bill when it reaches the Senedd, after shadow health minister Darren Millar questioned whether changing the law really is a “silver bullet”.

He added: “Organ donation is an emotive subject and it’s important to examine the both the clinical evidence for and against the Welsh Government’s proposed approach and to listen to the views of the Welsh public during the coming weeks.

“It remains a fact that some countries operating presumed consent systems have lower rates of organ donation so legislation should not be seen as a silver bullet to improving donation rates.”

Article by Madeline Brindley. Published on Wales Online

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