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Organ donation


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

During her speech at the Conservative Party conference on 4 October 2017, Prime Minister Theresa May announced that England will change to an opt-out system for organ donation. After a public consultation, the Government announced on 5 August that it expects the new system to be in place from spring 2020. It has expressed support for the Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Bill 2017-19, which is being scrutinised in the Commons, as a way to achieve this life-saving change. Read the BMA's latest briefing in support of this Bill.

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

We welcome the UK Prime Minister's announcement, and 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 would an opt-out system work?

Before changing to an opt-out system, 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.

The database would allow people to easily and quickly opt-out if that is their wish.

Once implemented, when someone over the age of 16 dies and donation is a possibility, the opt-out register must, by law, be checked and if the individual has opted out donation could not proceed.

As an extra safeguard, if the individual had not opted out, family members would be asked if they were aware of any unregistered objection.

If the relatives were not aware of any objection, they would be informed that donation would proceed.

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


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

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)

BMA Parliamentary briefing on organ donation, Sept 2018