The government in England is set to follow Wales and change the law surrounding organ donation, in a bid to increase the number of people donating and to save more lives.

Under the new law, people in England will be presumed to consent to having their organs used for donation after death. This means that all deceased adults will be considered for organ donation unless they have chosen to opt out of the scheme.

Why is the law surrounding organ donation changing?

Under the current opt-in scheme there is a shortage of suitable donors. According to the NHS England organ donation website, this shortage means that three people die every day whilst waiting for an organ transplant.

Research has suggested that over 80 percent of adults in England would consider organ donation but only 37 percent of adults have taken the time to sign up to the NHS Organ Donor Register.

There are certain groups who will be exempt if the opt-out scheme comes to pass. This includes:

  • those under the age of 18;
  • those with a limited mental capacity;
  • and those who have have not lived in England for the 12 months prior to their death.

The change will be known as ‘Max’s law’ to recognise ten-year-old Max Johnson. His life was saved by a heart transplant following a newspaper campaign for the law to be switched to an ‘opt-out’ process.

Do any other countries use a successful opt-out scheme?

Wales transferred to a soft ‘opt-out’ organ donation scheme in 2015. A government report has since revealed that the scheme has not yet resulted in an increase in donors; although it has been said that more time is needed to uncover the true impact of the legislation change.  

Spain is the world leader when it comes to organ donation, with over 2,000 people donating their organs after death in 2017. The country proudly follows a ‘presumed consent’ scheme and believes this forms part of its success.

What should I do if I want to register as an organ donor now?

If you wish to register as an organ donor before the legislation changes you can sign up to the organ donor register.

It will still be important to speak to your family about your organ donation wishes, even under the new opt-out scheme. Family members may need to confirm your organ donation wishes after your death.

The Department of Health and Social Care is hoping that the legislation will be debated again later this year so that it can be brought into effect by spring 2020.