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Opt-out organ donation scheme could lead to conflict between families and clinicians

02 October 2014 | tagged News release

More research and a high profile information campaign is needed before an opt-out organ donation scheme could come into effect says the Law Society of Scotland. 

Proposals put forward by Anne McTaggart MSP, aim to increase transplant rates and reduce waiting lists for patients.  However the Law Society has said that reversing the current opt-in system of organ donation to mean that unless a person expressly opts out, they are deemed to have opted in, would need to be fully researched and require a high profile information campaign to ensure that members of the public were fully aware of such a major change. 

The consultation on the Organ and Tissue Donation (Scotland) Bill also includes the proposal that the role of the family be limited to being consulted on whether they are aware of any unregistered objection by the deceased rather than expressly asking for their consent, and could lead to potential conflict between the family and medical staff. 

Alison Britton, convener of the Society’s Health and Medical Law Committee said:

“The proposed legislation would reverse current law so it is imperative to get it right. There are issues around individuals who have not opted out or expressed an objection to organ donation, but whose families raise strong objections.  This could lead to clinicians facing the decision to remove organs in the face of strong objection or severe distress of family members.  It is vitally important that appropriate education and training be given to a wide range of people, not only to the medical fraternity, but that a far reaching and high profile public campaign is put in place, to ensure that any decisions made are fully informed.”

The consultation also considers the age at which a person be automatically opted in to be a donor, with the age of 16 being suggested. 

Ms Britton continued: “We agree with the proposal that the age limit for automatic opt-in should be set at 16.  The current law in Scotland allows for a child over the age of 12 to consent to organ donation without parental consent, and this will remain the case even if this legislation is brought into force.” 


Notes to editors 

The Society’s full response to the Proposed Organ and Tissue Donation (Scotland) Bill consultation can be found on the Society’s website

Consent to organ donation in Scotland is currently covered under the Human Tissue (Scotland) Act 2006. 

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION: Please contact Louise Docherty on 0131 476 8204 or Val McEwan on 0131 226 8884

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