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Education vital to increasing organ donation: Society

20 March 2017

Any legislation designed to increase organ donation and transplants would have to be supported by a major public education campaign to ensure the desired effect, the Law Society of Scotland said today.

Releasing its response to a Scottish Government consultation on increasing organ and tissue donation and transplantation, the Society said there were "patterns of evidence" to suggest that some countries had higher donation rates than others, but while opt-out systems had improved transplant figures in some countries, the same result might not occur elsewhere because of cultural differences and perceptions.

Ministers have proposed moving to a system under which people would be presumed in certain circumstances to have consented to their organs being used, and at whether referrals of patients should be encouraged by hospital clinicians, as ways of meeting a shortfall in the number of organs needed for transplant.

Without commenting on the policy aims in relation to an opt-out system, the Society believes that increased awareness and education has an important role in increasing people’s willingness to donate organs.

Professor Alison Britton of Glasgow Caledonian University, convener of the Society’s Health & Medical Law Committee, commented: “The merits of an opt-out over an opt-in system to increase organ and tissue donation are not clear; however, regardless of the system adopted, increasing public support for either system is essential to improving donation rates.

“We can look to Spain, which is regarded as having a highly successful model for increasing organ donation. While it operates a system of presumed consent, the legislation is supported by other measures including a multi-level transplant coordinator network and highly visible public education campaigns.

“Any plan to change existing legislation would have to be accompanied by a large scale education programme on the benefits of organ donation.”

The Law Society believes that family members have an important role to play in decision-making on organ donation, as while in Scotland there is no legislative requirement to consult with the family, next of kin are normally consulted and they have a potential to veto any decision made by the donor.

“An international study has shown that where next of kin involvement was sought, their views have a larger and more immediate effect than legislative changes – regardless of the type of organ donation model that had been adopted and whether the views of the potential donor had been expressed or not", Professor Britton continued. "It would appear then, that while the views of a potential donor are given priority, family members tend to have the final say on whether donation goes ahead or not.”

As regards young people, the Society supports 16 as the lower age limit for automatic opting in, with those aged 12-16 able to consent to donation, with safeguards to ensure they fully understand what they are authorising.

Click here to view the full response.


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