Organ donations become “opt out” instead of “opt in”

On 20 May 2020, the law in relation to organ donation in England is going to change. At present, we have an “opt in” system, whereby would-be donors must register on the NHS Organ Donor Register in order to signify that they would be prepared to make a donation in suitable circumstances. However, from 20th May, organ donations become “opt out”. That means that although organ donation remains a choice, if you would not wish to donate, you should register your wishes on the NHS Organ Donor Register, and tell your family and friends what you have decided, in order to ensure that your wishes are respected.

The Organ Donation Act 2020 is informally known as “Max and Keira’s law”, in honour of the touching case of a little boy named Max Johnson who received a life-saving heart transplant in 2017, and a little girl named Keira Ball who had been in a road traffic accident and who donated her heart to him. Their families have campaigned for this change in the law to be made.

In the UK, we currently have over 6000 people waiting for a donor organ. Three people die daily whilst on the waiting list. The aim of the new legislation is to reduce the number of people who are waiting for a life-saving transplant, by increasing the number of potential donors. It is believed that although many people would be potentially amenable to making a donation in suitable circumstances, a large percentage of them have failed to register their interest under the current system. Studies show that 80% of people in England in fact support organ donation, but only 38% have opted in. This means that families can be left making a very difficult decision when a loved one dies.

Once organ donations become “opt out”, all adults in England will be considered to have agreed to be organ donors, unless they have recorded a decision to the contrary or they form part of one of the excluded groups to whom this does not apply. Excluded groups include children under the age of 18, those who lack mental capacity, visitors to England, people who do not live here voluntarily and those who have lived here for less than 12 months before their death.

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