A cultural shift has taken place in Britain.
Organ donation has been hotly debated, and following a campaign to change the law, a new Act of Parliament cleared its last hurdle in Parliament this week.
Named after the recipient of a heart, a young boy named Max who was being kept alive with a mechanical pump in hospital after suffering heart failure, and its donor, a little 9-year-old girl, named Keira who was involved in a terrible car accident, it will be known as Max and Keira’s Law.
It will receive royal assent within the next few days.
Its measures will come into effect after a period of transition, in early 2020.
It will presume consent to donate. This means that adults in England will be assumed to be donors unless they have specially recorded their decision not to be.
It will provide a lifeline for the hundreds of patients waiting for organs and will save lives as there is such a drastic shortage of donors.
In England, thousands of people are living with life-limiting illnesses. Ministers estimate that 700 die every year before a suitable donor can be found.
That’s because there are over 6000 people on the U.K. transplant waiting list.
Up until now, adults in England had to sign up to a national register if they wished for their organs to be taken after their death.
After the law comes into effect, people will be assumed to have given consent when they die.
Those who want to opt out for personal, religious or other reasons will still be able to.
Under-18s and tourists are excluded from the law, as is anyone considered unable to make an informed decision.
Importantly, the wishes of families and next of kin will continue to be respected, which means that organs will not be removed without their support.
Other Opt-Out Countries
This is not the first time that such a law exists in the United Kingdom – the law in Wales regarding organ donation changed in 2015 to a similar ‘presumed to donate’ system.
Organ donation consent rates in Wales are now the highest in the UK at 75%.
Meanwhile, the Scottish Parliament is also this week discussing an opt-out organ donation bill, called the Human Tissue (Authorisation) (Scotland) Bill.
By way of comparison, Spain is held up as the best example of how well an opt-out system works.
It leads the world in organ donation, and by quite a margin.
According to 2017 figures, Spain has 46.9 donors per million people in the population (PMP: a standard way of measuring the rate of donation in a country) as compared to just 23.5 donors per million in England.
In the USA it’s 31.9 donors per million. Donation activity charts make for thought-provoking reading.
Spain has invested heavily in training specialist hospital staff and medical retrieval teams, has increased the number of ICU beds, and has carried out successful education campaigns.
So, it’s not only about changing the law but also about increasing investment and ensuring that training occurs.
Spain is a model from which other countries have a lot to learn.
Let us hope that the figures in the UK are comparable to those of Spain within a short time.
That will mean that thousands of people live not only better lives but also that hundreds of lives every year are saved.
Published on Still Standing Magazine 01.03.2019