Scotland politics

Plan for Scottish opt-out organ donation system published

Transplant unit
Image caption At present, anyone who wants to donate organs after death must "opt in" to the system

Legislation has been tabled at Holyrood to shift Scotland to an "opt-out" system for organ donation.

At present, people must opt in to the system in order to donate their organs for transplants after they die.

Under the proposals published at the Scottish Parliament, it will be assumed people were in favour of donation unless they have stated otherwise.

Medics will still check with families to confirm the deceased person's views, and ensure they understand the process.

Public Health Minister Aileen Campbell said the move was "part of driving a long-term change in attitudes towards organ and tissue donation".

Currently, 45% of the Scottish population have signed up for the organ donor card scheme, although the number of donors has increased by 89% over the past decade.

The Human Tissue (Authorisation) (Scotland) Bill follows similar legislation passed in Wales in 2015, and allows parts of an adult's body to be used in transplants in the absence of express permission.

However, it includes provisions to make sure the wishes of families and next of kin continue to be respected, and excludes children and adults who do not have the capacity to understand the rules.

Ms Campbell said: "Organ and tissue donation is an incredible gift. Importantly, under the proposed system, people will still be able to make a choice about donation as they can now and there are safeguards to ensure their wishes are followed.

"I would encourage people to continue to make a decision about donation and to tell their family.

"Organ donation can only occur in tragic circumstances, and every donor, supported by their family, makes a selfless decision that can save other people's lives."

Less than 1% of people die in circumstances that enable organ donation to take place, as potential donors usually have to be in an intensive care unit at the time and there may be medical reasons that mean organs are unsuitable for transplantation.

MSPs considered an opt-out system in the previous parliamentary term, but narrowly rejected a member's bill from Labour's Anne McTaggart due to "serious concerns" about the "practical impact of the specific details".

Ministers promised to consider the idea, and have brought forward their own legislation with the backing of British Medical Association Scotland and 82% of respondents in a consultation.

There have been calls for other parts of the UK to follow the Welsh model, and MPs have backed making a similar change in England.

A study of the Welsh system found that it had not increased the number of donors across its first two years, although Health Secretary Vaughan Gething said it was "too early to know the true impact" of the change.

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