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Don't 'opt-out' from saving lives - England needs a new organ donation system

3 min read

Labour MP Dan Jarvis writes for PoliticsHome ahead of his debate, calling for England to adopt an "opt-out" organ donation scheme to save more lives. 

Today I am leading a debate in Parliament on “The introduction of an opt-out system for Organ Donation in England”. Knowing the stories of Max Johnson and Joe Dale will help you understand why.

Max is nine years old and has cardiomyothapy – a condition which enlarges the heart and can be life threatening if left untreated. Max is kept alive by a tiny metal pump in his chest, and has been waiting for a heart transplant for six months. He is one of ten thousand people in the UK who need an organ donation. Last year, 457 died whilst still waiting. 

Joe Dale was a constituent of mine.  He died last month after a sudden asthma attack. He was just 16 years old. After his death – his family made the selfless decision to donate some of his organs so that others might have the chance to live. Because of their decision, Joe became one of the hundreds of deceased donors that save and improve lives every year in the UK.

Joe was one of the 1% of people who die in a way that allows for organ donation. A figure which means that the vast majority of people on the organ donor register will never actually donate their organs. So although there are hundreds of thousands of people across the country who are registered as potential donors, only a small percentage will ever be in a situation which allows donation to take place. 

As a result, and despite the excellent campaigns run by the NHS, there are simply not enough registered organ donors and people in the UK are dying because of it. Yet surveys consistently show that there are many people who would like their organs to be donated when they die but who are not currently registered.

I believe that the best way for us to improve this situation is to adopt the so-called “opt-out system”, rather than the current “opt-in” system we currently use. Wales has had an opt-out system since December 2015, and only last month the Scottish Government announced plans for a similar system in Scotland. 

If we model our system on the one Wales have used since December 2015, we could offer the public three clear options: first, to register their wish to be a donor by opting in to the system; second, to register their wish not to be a donor by opting out; third, to have their consent to donation deemed by taking no action.

The evidence from Wales suggests that the availability of these three options is increasing the number of organs available for donation and, as a result, saving lives. It is now time that we in England adopt a similar scheme and begin to save more. 

We cannot save the 457 lives lost last year, but if we adopt an “opt-out” system, we will save many more lives in the future.

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Read the most recent article written by Dan Jarvis MP - Britain should be a hostile environment for serious organised crime