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Eye for an eye? Organ donation urged for all

25 July 2007

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Sir Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer for England, has called for an "opt-out" approach to organ donation, whereby people would need to specifically state that they don't want to donate their organs in the event of death.

Currently, would-be donors need to register with the NHS Organ Donor Register to ensure their organs can be used to help others after they have died.

The "opt-out" idea has been prompted by a shortage of donated organs under the current system.

"There is a crisis of organ supply facing every transplant unit in the country," comments Sir Liam in his annual report, 'On the state of public health'.

"Approximately one patient in the UK on the transplant waiting list dies every day. They die for an organ that never arrives."

The idea of an "opt-out" approach to organ donation is not a new one: similar systems have already been implemented in a number of other European countries.

Although recent changes in UK law mean that the wishes of the donor take priority over those of living relatives, there is still a shortage in organ donators.

Sir Liam believes an "opt-out" system, with proper legislation and safe-guards, is the only solution.

In an attempt to allay fears over excessive state control, Sir Liam writes: "As long as the option to voluntarily opt out from the system is both available and easily accessible, and strict measures are applied to protect vulnerable groups, the experience of other countries shows that such a system can command public confidence."

The Chief Medical Officer's annual report is designed to draw attention to the major health challenges that face the nation.

Since the report was published on 17 July 2007, the NHS Organ Donor Register has seen a record increase in the number of new donor registrations. Overall, 22,480 people joined the register in the space of two days - more than is usually seen in a quarter of a year.

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