Wales adopts organ donation opt-out
Tuesday 10th September 2013, 3:00AM BST.
A landmark new law where people will be presumed to have given permission for their organs to be donated after death will come into force in two years.
Wales is the the first UK country to introduce an “opt out” donation system – a move that has been praised by medical organisations but prompted criticism by some religious groups.
Ministers insist the scheme will be drive up transplant rates and save countless lives.
Assembly Members voted in favour of the law earlier this year- and it has moved a step closer to being rolled out after the final formalities of the legislation were completed during a special ceremony in Cardiff.
The process saw First Minister Carwyn Jones, who also holds the title of Keeper of the Seal, using a hand-wound press to stamp the Letters Patent – an official document signed by the Queen – before it being given Royal Assent.
Mr Jones said: “The Human Transplantation (Wales) Act 2013 is arguably the most significant piece of legislation passed by the National Assembly for Wales since it acquired full lawmaking powers in 2011.
“Many people will wait years for a transplant but sadly, many die waiting on the list. The shortage of human organs continues to cause otherwise preventable deaths and suffering.
“This law will not only help reduce the waiting list, but will also help save lives by reducing the number of people who needlessly die waiting for an organ transplant.”
The Welsh Government has long said there is a desperate need to drive up transplantation rates – with around 200 people in Wales waiting for a transplant.
Officials hope the new legislation will increase the number of donors by around a quarter.
Once implemented, people will have to choose not to donate their organs and it would apply to over-18s who die in Wales if they have lived in the country for more than 12 months.
Organs made available under the system would be the same as the “opt-in” method – including kidneys, heart, liver, lungs and pancreas – and would not only go to donor patients in Wales. They could go anywhere in the UK.
The scheme faced opposition from some religious groups, which claimed it would make conscripts out of donors.
But ministers have denied this and described the system as a “soft opt-out”.
They say it will allow relatives or “friends of long standing” to object to someone’s organs being used if they had not asked to be removed from the register. The final decision will rest with medical staff if they decide to continue with the process – provided a match has been found.
Among those who expressed their delight at the new law was 26-year-old Laura Raffour, of St Mellons, Cardiff.
Her four-year-old daughter, Ava, was born with the life-threatening condition biliary atresia.
She underwent heart surgery and two liver transplants before her first birthday and has had more than 60 operations to date.
Mrs Raffour, who helped unveil the start date for the new law during a photo opportunity, said: “Unless you’re affected personally or come into contact with someone in need of an organ donation, signing up to the NHS Organ Donor Register is just not a priority.
“I’d never been against donating, but, like many other people, I had never got round to it. My family knew I was in favour, but I just hadn’t done anything formal about it.
“Until we encountered Ava’s problems we hadn’t had to think about it.
“That’s why the legislation passed today by the Welsh Government, changing the law to an opt-out system is so very, very important.
“For us, organ donation comes down to the premise that if you’re willing to take, you should be willing to give.”
Also in favour of the law was the charity Kidney Wales, whose c hief executive Roy J Thomas said: ” It gives hope to all those waiting for a transplant, not only those on the list but those who fear chronic organ failure and who may need a transplant.
“This Act is something the Assembly and Wales can be proud – and will now be a marker for other parts of the UK.”
However, some religious groups have expressed unease about the new law.
Ahead of it being passed by AMs, several faith groups – featuring signatures of leading Welsh Christian, Jewish and Muslim clerics – signed an open letter expressing their unease about the plan.
It said: “We remain opposed to any weakening of the principle the donation of organs should be free and voluntary.”
The Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, has previously said he feared the scheme could turn “volunteers into conscripts” and claimed the new legislation could actually lower the number of organ donors.
However, ministers hope to win over any doubters ahead of the law’s implementation on December 1, 2015.
Before then they will stage a two-year, £8 million publicity drive to brief people about the changes.
Wales’s Health Minister Mark Drakeford said people would be given plenty of information on how the new system works and what choices they have.
He added: “Even today people can help others by ensuring their loved ones know their wishes about organ donation and I would encourage everyone to have that conversation.”