On 20 May 2020 an important new law came into force. It is officially called the Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Act 2019 and details can be found here: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2019/7/contents/enacted
It will however be informally known as “Max and Keira’s Law” after a boy whose life was saved when he received the heart of a nine-year-old girl who died in a car crash.
It will change the present situation, whereby you have to make a positive decision to donate organs or other body parts after death, so that now, all adults in England to be deemed organ donors unless they “opt-out”. Consent for organ donation will be presumed unless the individual opts out, or unless family intervenes. Legally, your body is no longer yours after death, but belongs to your family, which is why they can make that decision. However, it is hoped that the vast majority of families will allow organ donation if there is no opt out provision, thus saving at least hundreds of lives more a year.
Statistics show that approximately 80% of adults in England say they would donate, but fewer than 40% have actually registered to do so. You can still make that decision for yourself prior to death, but this time you need to make a positive decision NOT to donate rather than to donate.
How do you opt out?
If you do not wish to donate, you will need to record your decision on the NHS Organ Donor Register.
There is no deadline for doing so, but obviously it would have to be prior to death if you want it to be YOUR decision. If you later request that your details are withdrawn from the register, the organ donation decision you had previously recorded – whether to donate or not to donate – will be removed from the NHS Organ Donor Register along with your personal details. This will mean that there is no longer any recorded decision for you on the register. If there is no recorded decision for you, it will be considered that you agree to donate your organs after death unless you are in an “excluded group”. Family consent will still be required for organs or tissues to be retrieved, both out of consideration for the family, and to make sure additional relevant information is gathered.
In Wales, which introduced the system in 2015, donations have risen from 58% to 75%.
Probably the best known and most needed category is for internal organs, but the need for tissues, particularly corneas, is also urgent. Apparently 20 corneas are needed every day. There is also a need for heart valves, tissue for skin grafts, especially following disasters. The London Olympics set up a huge store in case of a terrorist incident.
Donations can come from living donors, such as bone or bone marrow (there is a specific register for this) and “artificial tears” produced from blood serum can also be required.
Tissues and organs normally have to be taken within 24 hours of death and a donee with the right match swiftly identified. Those on the waiting list have to be prepared for an organ to become available at very short notice and need to be able to get to hospital very quickly. Organs and tissues are often couriered by motorbike or even helicopter at high speed to the location.
Although the need is there and many people’s lives can be saved as a result of donations, it has to be one of the most difficult requests a doctor has to make of newly- bereaved families, especially as the most suitable donors may have died young or in tragic circumstances. But it has to be done because of the time factor. With the presumed consent to donation, this may spare families this difficult decision at a time they are least prepared to make it.
It is fair to say that not everyone agrees with the new law. There are those who think the law should have remained as it was with positive and not deemed consent.
But you can still make that decision for yourself. It can still be a personal decision. It is often the case that you don’t really know how you would feel unless and until you were in the position of someone needing a donated organ; not a position we would want anyone to be in.
But it does happen. Families can and do look upon it as still having a part of the deceased with them and they literally do have that. But they will also have the gratitude of the people and their families whose lives were saved and the thought that at least some good has come out of their sad loss.