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Opt-out organ donation law passes final Holyrood stage

12 June 2019

The bill to introduce an opt-out system of organ and tissue donation for deceased donors has passed its final stage in the Scottish Parliament.

Under the Human Tissue (Authorisation) (Scotland) Bill, if an adult does not opt in or opt out of donation they may be deemed to have authorised donation for transplantation. The bill contains safeguards to ensure that donation will not go ahead where it would be against the person’s wishes. 

The Bill is aimed at increasing the number of successful donations in Scotland. International evidence suggests that opt-out legislation can lead to increases as part of a package of measures.

The Scottish Government will be working with stakeholders to ensure that systems and training for health professionals are in place before opt-out is introduced. A public awareness campaign, launching later this year, will provide more information about what the changes mean and what choices people will have. Ministers will also be under a duty to carry out a public information exercise at least once a year once the law is in force.

MSPs of all parties supported the bill, but three voted against it and two abstained. SNP member Christine Grahame, who voted against, said she could not support the bill as it was worded, because "Neither authorisation nor consent can be 'presumed' or 'deemed' in the vital absence of an indication either way. In my view, it is wrong for the state to do so on behalf of a silent deceased person."

Speaking after the vote, Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick said:

"Organ and tissue donation can be a life-changing gift. Evidence shows that opt-out systems can make a difference as part of a wider package of measures and this bill provides further opportunities to both save and improve lives.

"We have worked closely with key stakeholders in the NHS to ensure that the system which is introduced is workable and I would like to thank them for their considerable input in this new law. We will continue to work with them as we prepare for the introduction of opt-out to ensure this legislation is implemented effectively and helps to save and improve lives."

Under the system there will be protections for adults without capacity to understand deemed authorisation, adults resident in Scotland for less than 12 months and children under 16 who will not be subject to deemed authorisation and will only be able to donate if they, or someone on their behalf, explicitly authorise it.

Less than 1% of people die in circumstances that enable organ donation to proceed, as a potential donor usually has to be in an intensive care unit and there may be medical reasons that mean organs are unsuitable for transplantation.

There will be a high profile awareness-raising campaign running at least 12 months before the introduction of the new system, and on a regular basis after implementation.


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