There are currently over 6,000 people on the waiting list for an organ transplant in the UK. Despite a record number of posthumous donations in 2015-16, the UK still has one of the lowest rates of consent in Europe. Clearly, our current system isn’t working.

In January, France radically changed their organ donation policy. This change means that every citizen in the country is now automatically listed as an organ donor – unless they choose to opt out. This is controversial, as the system of ‘presumed consent’ overrides the wishes of the family members of the deceased.

In the UK, as many as 4 out of 10 families who were approached following the death of a loved one disagreed with organ donation. However, the most common reason for disagreeing to consent is a lack of knowledge about the wishes of the deceased. If all members of the public were made organ donors automatically, those who opposed this concept could easily opt out. This change in legislation could save thousands of lives.

Wales has introduced similar legislation to France. The system, which has been in place since December 2015, states that if a deceased member of the public is suitable for organ donation and has not opted out, the transplant will go ahead. However, unlike in France, if a family member refuses this donation – despite presumed consent – the procedure will not go ahead. This has made a huge difference to organ donation in Wales. In 2016, 24% of organ donors were members of the public who were listed under ‘deemed consent’. In addition to this, those who chose to opt out only made up 6% of the population.

The UK consent rate currently stands at 62%. The main reasons for this percentage not being higher are likely due to a lack of communication and awareness. Signing up to the Organ Donor Register is not a priority for most people; we assume it will never affect us personally.

This presumed consent system was rejected by the UK in 2008 – later to be overturned in Wales. Instead, the government decided to increase awareness about the subject. However, with a set target of an 80% consent rate by 2020, there is still a long way to go.

If the rest of the UK adopted a similar system to Wales, thousands of lives would be saved. Furthermore, with the potential for next of kin refusal still in place, families can be involved in the process. It is vital that families discuss their opinions on donation with each other – communication is key. Those who wish to sign up to the NHS Organ Donor Register can do so at:


Image: Global Panorama

Published: 19 Feb 2017