Families urged to talk about organ donation ahead of bill debate

Picture: TSPL
Picture: TSPL
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Families are being encouraged to have conversations about organ donation as the Scottish Government considers a Bill that would presume people’s consent for having a transplant.

A Holyrood committee heard evidence from health bosses in Wales, where an opt-out system for organ donation was introduced in December 2015.

If approved, the Human Tissue (Authorisation) (Scotland) Bill would mean individuals would need to specify they do not want their organs to be donated after death.

The UK Government has made similar proposals, with the Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Bill having passed through the House of Commons last month. MSPs were told about the impact the legislation in Wales has had upon donors and their families since being brought in. Although consent for donation is presumed unless otherwise stated, the committee heard it was important families are given a key role in the process.

Dr Katja Empson, of Organ Donation South Wales, said: “It would be impossible to work with a legislation that somehow enforced the decision to be pushed through, irrespective of what the family’s position was in that situation.

“Ultimately, the specialist nurses and the clinicians working with that family would not want to harm them in the sense they would push through donation if it was clearly something the family felt very much they couldn’t support.”

Concerns have been raised about the prospect of families being asked to answer difficult questions regarding the health and social choices made by deceased relatives before any transplantation can take place.

Dr Empson said asking sensitive questions is an important step before any procedure can proceed.

He said: “The expectation is you will explore those themes with families and our experience in that over the last few years suggests it is necessary to ask those questions.

“It’s my understanding they’re an essential part of the process of safe donation and transplantation taking place.”

Richard Glendinning, who played a key role in the evaluation of the act in Wales, said families can still have the final decision whilst acknowledging the individual’s wishes.

He said: “Although there are occasions where families do overrule the presumed consent, or the opt-in consent people give before they become deceased, those proportions are going down.”