The UK is changing its approach to organ donation. Unfortunately, it is only a minor change. Previously, upon an individual’s death, NHS Blood & Transplant (NHSBT), the body which regulates and operates organ donation, had to seek the consent of the relatives of the deceased to ask if they wished to use their right to veto the donation. Now, the NHSBT no longer specifically asks for consent, but will still bow to the veto.
This is a step in the right direction, but nevertheless, not far enough. You could devote your entire life to campaigning for organ donation, write fervently and publically in favour of organ donation, and diligently carry your donation card on your person at all times. Yet still, upon your death, if your parents were to turn up at the hospital and use their right to veto the donation of your organs, you would be left with no recompense but to roll violently in your grave.
Moreover, such vetoes have serious ramifications. Last year, family members blocked the donation of 547 donors. Had those 547 people been allowed to donate, they could have provided organs for 1,200 people in dire need of them.
In the UK, it is currently only Wales that operates an opt-out system, rather than the opt-in system used in England. Opt-out means that we are all automatically donors, and must act positively in order to no longer be one, as opposed to have to make the positive effort to become a donor.
Critics of the opt-out system feel that it is presumptuous, and indeed it is: presumptuous of kindness and generosity, and certainly nothing sinister. Around 22.9 million adults in the UK give to charity every month. We are a generous nation; the opt-out system would be a good fit for us.
Furthermore, the opt-out system better suits human nature. The opt-in system forces us to grapple with the nature of our mortality, and the unpleasantly morbid images that accompany it. The opt-out system, on the other hand, allows both the ambivalent and the willing to donate with minimum effort, whilst ensuring those who feel strongly that they do not want to donate can sign out in an easy and simple manner.
The NHSBT is making progress with small changes, and we can only hope that this will one day be followed by the introduction of the opt-out system in England and in the rest of the UK. Nonetheless, the fact that the NHSBT will no longer have to make the effort to seek out the consent of relatives when a registered organ donor has died must be applauded as an excellent development. There are 6,578 people currently waiting for transplants in the UK. Their lives, and the lives of their loved ones, have been put on hold, trapped in a hideous waiting room. Some of these people will die on the waiting list. All reasonable steps should be taken to reduce such wholly unnecessary loss of life. The opt-out system would provide an important piece in this puzzle.