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Organ Donation: Are You Opting In Or Out?

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What legal changes have there been if you want to make an organ donation? Tilly Bailey & Irvine Solicitors explain with Laura Fairlie, of our Probate Team in Stockton.

Have you ever thought about saving someone’s life after your death? Becoming an organ donor could be something for you.

According to NHS statistics, three people die each day in the UK waiting for a replacement organ. With this figure on the rise, the demand for organ donors is ever increasing.

Organ donation is a highly criticised subject, its opposition based largely on religious beliefs and ethical grounds.  Others find a sense of comfort in the idea of improving someone else's life whilst sparing a family the grief of losing a loved one too. Ultimately, choosing to become an organ donor is a very personal choice and you shouldn’t feel pressured into it.

2020 Law Change: Max and Keira's Law

From 2020, a change was made to the law meaning adults in England will be considered potential donors unless they choose to opt out or are excluded. This will be known as Max and Keira's Law.

According to the NHS website: "Organ donation in England has moved to an 'opt out' system. This means that all adults in England will be considered to have agreed to be an organ donor when they die unless they have recorded a decision not to donate or are in one of the excluded groups. Your family will still be approached and your faith, beliefs and culture will continue to be respected."

Previous Organ Donation Law

Previously the UK had an ‘opt-in’ system whereby a person must register their consent to donate their organs after their death. Following a landmark change in the law an ‘opt-out’ system now operates in Wales. The opt-out system will apply to those aged 18 years or over who have lived in Wales for at least 12 months. It will now be presumed that you consent to your organs being donated after your death unless you have expressly stated otherwise – this is known as “deemed consent”.

Unsurprisingly, the system has received criticism, particularly from religious groups, who believe that the choice to donate your organs should be a voluntary one. Recent facts and figures have revealed that, in some cases, family members have objected to the donation and this has proven to be yet another obstacle.

British Heart Foundation is among those welcoming the changes. The Chief Executive of BHF commented “other European countries that already use an opt-out system have much higher donor rates than the UK”. The opt-out system came into effect in France, on 1 January 2017, following Spain and Belgium who are amongst those recording the highest number of organ donations worldwide.

You can donate various organs, including your heart, liver, kidneys and lungs. Up to eight lives can be saved from one donor alone. Donating your organs could also help your family through the grieving process in knowing that their loved one has given someone else a second chance at life.

The opt-out system has proven a success so far with only 5.9% of the population of Wales choosing to opt-out, thus already providing hope for those in desperate need of an organ transplant.

If you do wish to be an organ donor here are a few practical points for you to consider:

  • Register your decision with the NHS Organ Donation Register. This is a confidential list and will identify you to medical staff as an organ donor.
  • Discuss your wishes with your family members so that they are aware of this when the time comes. Your family may be opposed to the idea of your organs being donated and, although they cannot overrule your decision, their wishes may be taken into account by medical staff.  If you have communicated your wishes to your loved ones then it is less likely they’ll oppose your decision.
  • Carry a Donor Card. This indicates your consent to organ donation and your card will be sent to you once you have registered on the NHS Organ Donation Register.

Organ Donations In Your Will

You can include a clause in your Will expressing a wish for your organs to be donated after your death or, if you prefer, to donate your body to medical science. If you would like more information about donating your body for the purpose of medical research, contact Newcastle University whose team of healthcare professionals will answer any queries you may have. You can also obtain an Information Pack on their website.

If you are thinking about preparing a Will in order to make your wishes clear then our team of experienced Teesside solicitors are happy to assist you with this process. You are welcome to contact our north east offices at any time for a free initial appointment.