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Shortage of organ donors

20th September 2007

Health Secretary Alan Johnson has asked a team of advisers to look at whether everyone in England should be put on the organ donor register unless they choose to opt out.

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The move comes amid a chronic shortage of donated organs in the UK, though ministers accept it remains a highly sensitive issue.

England’s chief medical officer Liam Donaldson advocated a system of presumed consent – where people are on the register unless they ask not to be – but the plan was rejected by MPs when they voted on the Human Tissues Act in 2004.

Mr Johnson said while the subject was sensitive he felt it was vital that all possible options were explored.

The UK currently has 8,000 people waiting for an organ donation but only 3,000 transplants are carried out each year with an estimated one person a day dying while on the transplant waiting list.

Only 24% of the population (14.6m) are currently on the register though surveys suggest that as many as 90% of people would be happy to donate their organs after death.

Any change to the system of consent would have to be put to parliament. In July, Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer Harry Burns rejected the idea, saying there was no evidence that the public would support such a move.

Countries such as Spain and Austria  have seen their donation rate increase dramatically after introducing presumed consent. The British Medical Association advocates presumed consent and welcomed the government’s decision to look into the issue further.

 

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