Taskforce rejects 'presumed consent' organ donation plans

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EXPERTS advising the Government have rejected plans for a new system of "presumed consent" organ donation.

A report from the "Organ Donation Taskforce" said there was insufficient evidence to support the change, which would make people automatic organ donors unless they choose to "opt out".

"Presumed consent" was not expected to increase organ donation rates and might cause "significant complications" said the panel, after an extensive investigation into the practical legal and ethical issues involved.

One of the chief worries was that an "opt-out" scheme might undermine public trust in healthcare professionals and actually reduce organ donation rates.

There were fears that people might think the care of loved ones could be compromised by the pressing need for transplant organs.

The complexity and cost of a "presumed consent" system were other factors not in its favour.

Evidence from other countries suggested "opt out" systems made little difference to organ donation rates, said the experts.

Speaking at a press briefing in London today, taskforce member Paul Murphy, an intensive care doctor in Leeds, said: "Not all members of the general public are supportive of presumed consent. They find it dehumanising, and they find it in conflict with choice, responsiveness and patient autonomy."

He added: "Our recommendation is that a system of opt out should not be introduced in the UK ...

"It has the potential to undermine the concept of donations as a gift to erode trust in NHS healthcare professionals and the Government, and negatively impact on organ donation numbers."

Working groups set up by the taskforce interviewed a wide range of doctors, patients, lawyers, religious leaders and politicians.

The experts also reviewed written evidence from around the world.

They pointed out that although there often appeared to be an association between "presumed consent" and higher donation rates evidence of a casual link was lacking.

Spain and Sweden both had opt out systems. But while Spain had the world's highest organ donation rate, three times that of the UK, Sweden had the lowest.

The US and Ireland both had "opt in" systems but very similar donation rates to Belgium and France which operated presumed consent systems.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the chief medical adviser are both known to be in favour of an "opt out" system, believing it would help reduce the chronic organ shortage and save lives.

An estimated 8,000 people in the UK need an organ transplant but only 3,000 operations are carried out each year. Every year a thousand people die waiting for a transplant.

Following publication of the report, Health Secretary Alan Johnson announced the launch of an organ donation awareness campaign aimed at recruiting nearly half the population to the organ donor register.

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