The Welsh Assembly has taken a dramatic step towards presumed consent for organ donation after publishing its White Paper on the subject back in November. With just one month to run on the consultation, it looks probable that Wales will become the first part of the UK to change the way organ donation is viewed.
According to the White Paper, any resident in Wales will automatically be considered an organ donor when they die. If any resident is unhappy with this and would like to refuse, then they would need to 'opt-out' of the organ donation system, probably by completing a form.
This is a big departure from the present system, in which residents are presumed not to want to donate their organs, unless they have joined the organ donation register and/or carry a donor card.
However, the version of presumed consent which the Welsh Assembly has recommended is known as 'soft opt-out'. This is because relatives will still have the opportunity to decline to consent to organ donation during a consultation with medical staff. The 'soft opt-out' system was designed in response to a consultation in 2008, which concluded that a 'hard opt-out' would 'undermine the concept of organ donation as a gift, erode trust in NHS professionals and negatively impact on organ donation'.
"Surveys show that the overwhelming majority of people in the UK believe in organ donation, but only one in three people in Wales has joined the organ donor register," said Lesley Griffiths, Health Minister for Wales.
"An opt-out system would better reflect the wishes of the majority of people and fill the void between good intention and action," she added.
The system does not guarantee that a larger numbers of organs will become available, as there would need to be an increase in the capacity of the system for managing organs and transplanting them.
"Presumed consent in itself is not the solution, but a key facilitator which must be enacted in conjunction with a well-developed system and infrastructure for organ donation and transplantation," said Roy Thomas, chairman of Kidney Wales Foundation.