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Organ donation: move towards 'soft' opt out

Organ donation box
A public consultation pointed in favour of change to organ donation rules

A Scottish Government move to introduce a ‘soft’ opt-out system for organ donation, saying it will save and transform people’s lives, has been welcomed by the BMA.

Public health minister Aileen Campbell said the Scottish Government would bring forward legislation after 82 per cent of those who responded to a public consultation said they were in favour of the change.

The consultation received more than 800 responses, including a petition with 18,500 signatures in favour of opt-out.

Under a soft opt-out system, the default will change so that instead of having to opt in to go on the organ register, people will be assumed to be willing donors unless they have specifically opted out; the ‘soft’ element means that families will still be able to refuse permission, but campaigners are confident that the change will lead to more organs being available for donation.

Similar legislation was implemented in Wales in December 2015.

BMA Scottish council chair Peter Bennie said: ‘Organ transplantation is an area that has seen amazing medical achievements but has not yet reached its full life-saving and life-transforming potential.

‘The whole transplant community has worked tremendously hard to increase donation rates but we believe that more can be done. As doctors it’s difficult to see our patients suffering and dying when their lives could be saved or dramatically improved by a transplant. 

‘We believe that genuine choice over organ donation can be facilitated through a soft opt-out system. If properly implemented, with adequate resources and staff, and backed up by a high profile campaign, an opt-out system could save or transform peoples’ lives.’

He said the BMA would be contributing to the legislative process.

Ms Campbell said that great progress had already been made as a result of Scotland’s donation and transplantation plan, and that moving to an opt-out system would be part of a long term culture change around donation.

‘We should not forget that organ donation is a gift, which can only occur as a result of tragic circumstances, and every donor and their family has made a selfless decision which has enabled others to live,’ she said.

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