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expert reaction to opening of public consultation on government plans to introduce a new opt-out organ donation system

The government are opening a public consultation into opt-out organ donation.


Mr Hugh Whittall, Director of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, said:

“We are concerned that the Government consultation goes straight into asking how an opt-out system should be introduced, rather than if it should.

“We all want to maximise organ donation in a way that is in keeping with people’s wishes.  The issue is what is the best way to do this, and we need first to understand the evidence and the implications of the options.

“The Government should not be making this change until there is evidence that it works, and until we are confident that it won’t undermine people’s trust in the system in the long-term. That evidence is simply not there yet, though we do know some things that do work. Key amongst those is raising public awareness, encouraging family discussion, and better support and communication between specialist nurses and bereaved families.

“Even in systems where an ‘opt-out’ approach has been adopted (such as Spain), it is generally recognised that these are the elements that have made a difference, rather than the legal basis of the donation.

“We welcome the Government’s call for discussion with family members about donors’ wishes. However, we should be basing our legislative decisions on evidence. A decision to change the law without first evaluating evidence could have serious consequences for organ donation.”


Mr Keith Rigg, Consultant Transplant Surgeon, said:

“I welcome the opportunity the consultation brings to have a national discussion around organ donation. Organ donation and transplantation rates have been increasing year on year for the last decade, waiting lists are reducing but there are still too many people waiting. Encouraging people to talk openly with their families about their organ donation wishes is really important. There are strong feelings for and against opting out and there is no convincing evidence from Wales yet that this had made a difference. It is important that any proposed changes are based on evidence, encourage the wishes of individuals to be known and acted on, and support families to make the right decision about their loved ones at the time of their death.”


Declared interests

Mr Hugh Whittall: “Paid employment or self-employment – Director of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics. Grant funding – NCOB funded by Wellcome, MRC and Nuffield Foundation.  Voluntary appointments – Trustee of Pacitti Company (Arts education charity); elected member of Ipswich Borough Council. Memberships – FRSA.  Decision-making positions – no relevant positions. Other financial interest – none.”

None others received.


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