Tuesday, December 1, 2020
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Organ donations: A warning from Wales

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ON Monday, Kathy Gyngell told in TCW how from next year, all adults in England will be considered to have agreed to be an organ donor when they die – and she branded the new law ‘a State takeover of our bodies’. 

Here in Wales, after extensive consultation and the 2008 Inquiry into Presumed Consent for Organ Donation, the law was changed and came into effect in December 2015. Today, adults are presumed to have consented to organ donation unless they have opted out.

At the time however, it was hotly contested and the arguments against presumed consent were the same as those quoted in Kathy’s article. But the Welsh Government still pressed ahead.

These were some of the anti opt-out points then made: Organ donation must remain an opt-in system only; no one has the right to take control of something that does not belong to them; organ donation must remain the choice of the donor, and without pressure to donate; it is not possible and it is unethical to presume consent; donation must be freely given and, finally, that it is an unwarranted intrusion by the State.

The campaign group Patient Concern was vocal in its protests and warned that ‘the risks of turning off support for transplantation far outweigh the possibility of increased organ supply’.

Against the confident assertions of the British Medical Association and the Kidney Wales Foundation amongst others, and not least those regarding the success rates of ‘deemed consent’ on organ donation rates in other countries, such concerns were set aside.

But, as a report published in 2017 – two years after the adoption of presumed consent in Wales – showed, it looks like Patient Concern may be proved right.

The opt-out system had not increased the number of donors. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-42213813

Results from the first full year had been evaluated and published. Instead of achieving the additional 45 organs that the Welsh Government confidently predicted per year, it reported that 2016-2017 had seen a drop in the availability of organs for donation, with three fewer donors and 33 fewer organs donated than in the previous year.

The same period saw an increase of people on the organ donor register (ODR) from 1.05million to 1.1million. But, interestingly, an even higher number opted out of the ODR – that is, removed themselves from it entirely: 165,000 in 2015-2016, a number that increased to nearly 175,000 in 2016-2017.

It may be that 2017 was too early to know if the study data reflected the long-term success or otherwise of the opt-out law. But if donors have not increased, a Conservative Government should think long and hard before following the Welsh system.

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Vivien Stoddart
Vivien Stoddart is a Pembrokeshire county councillor representing Hubberston Ward, Milford Haven, and a founder and former editor of Milford Haven’s weekly newspaper, The Milford Mercury.

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