Last updated:

Organ donation

 

A life-saving change in law

The BMA has long advocated a 'soft' opt-out system with safeguards for organ donation. We believe this is the best option for the UK to reduce the shortage of organs and save lives.

We are delighted that legislation has been passed by the UK Parliament, known as the Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Act 2019, to introduce an opt-out system (also known as 'deemed consent') for organ donation in England. It is expected that England will have the new system in place from spring 2020.

The BMA supported this important piece of legislation throughout its stages of scrutiny in Parliament. As well as our parliamentary briefings, our members wrote to their local MPs about the importance to doctors of bringing about this life-saving change in law.

Read our parliamentary briefing

This decision follows the move to an opt-out system in Wales and a government commitment to introduce similar legislation in Scotland.

We will continue to call for an opt-out system in Northern Ireland.

 

The campaign for an opt-out system

The BMA has been calling for an opt-out system for organ donation in the UK since 1999. Click through our timeline to learn more, or view in full screen.

 

How does an opt-out system work?

Before change is implemented, there would be an extensive, high profile awareness campaign to inform the public about the changes and to encourage them to consider their own wishes about donation after their death.

Adults have a number of options:

  • If they do not wish to donate, they can register a wish to opt-out of donation
  • They can record a positive wish to donate on the organ donor register
  • They can nominate someone to make the decision for them
  • They can do nothing and their consent will be deemed (i.e. it will be assumed they consent to act as a donor after their death)

Once implemented, when someone over the age of 18 dies and donation is a possibility, the opt-out register is checked and if the individual has opted out donation cannot proceed.

As an extra safeguard, if the individual has not opted out, family members will be asked if they were aware of any unregistered objection. If it becomes clear that the individual would not have consented, then donation will not proceed.

Importantly, any person who had a known objection to organ donation, recorded or otherwise, would not be a donor.

If the relatives are not aware of any unregistered objection, donation can proceed and the practical arrangements for this will be discussed with the family.

There is scope not to proceed if it is evident that to do so would cause severe distress to those close to the patient.

It is important that individuals are encouraged to discuss their wishes with their families, as it is much easier for everyone concerned if this discussion has already taken place.

 

Organ donation law around the UK

Depending on where you live in the UK, the law on organ donation differs.

See our policy in each nation:

 

Related content

BMA Parliamentary briefing on organ donation (Feb 2019)

Organ donation: Building on progress - where next for organ donation policy in the UK? (Feb 2012)

Move towards presumed consent organ donation (BMA News)

A life-saving change of heart (BMA blog)

Two thirds back the Mirror's call to change the organ donor laws and bring hope to thousands (Daily Mirror)