Photograph of a heat-shaped balloon
Photograph of a heat-shaped balloon

Under the new organ donation law, from Spring 2020 all adults in England will be considered to have agreed to be organ donors by default.  Any adult who does not want to donate their organs after their death will need to opt out.

Between now and Spring 2020, the old ‘opt-in’ registration system will still be in place.  You can use this system to register to be or not to be a donor.  This decision will be respected once the new system is up and running.

Each day, across the UK, around three people die in need of an organ because not enough organs are available for transplant.  The law change aims to increase the number of organ donors and therefore save more lives.

One organ donor can save or transform the lives of up to nine people.  Tissue transplants can also significantly improve a person’s quality of life.  This might be a cornea to help someone see again, a replacement heart valve to treat a heart defect, or skin to treat severe burns.

Another obstacle to organ donation is if the deceased’s family object to their relatives’ organs being donated.  This can happen even if the deceased was a registered organ donor.

Last year, 67% of UK families approached about donation agreed to donate.  However, 835 families declined to support organ donation, for reasons other than knowing that their relative didn’t wish to be a donor.  The most common reason for those families refusing to support donation is not being sure whether it is what their relative would have wanted.

In 79 out of the 835 family refusals, the patient had registered or expressed a positive organ donation decision, which the family then overruled, refusing to support their loved ones’ decision.  However, for the vast majority, the individual’s organ donation views were not known or not recorded.

If all of those 835 families had supported donation and the donation was able to proceed, this could have led to an additional 2,500 extra transplants, based on the average number of transplants per deceased donor over the course of the year.

This is why the NHS is encouraging people not only to register their donor status but to also have a conversation with their families about their decision.  By doing this, more organs will be donated, and families will know what to do when the time comes.

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