Wales' opt-out organ donation law comes into effect
Wales has just introduced a landmark law that makes every adult a potential organ donor after their death -- unless they opt out beforehand.
The Welsh parliament actually passed the new law in 2013, but it only came into effect on Dec. 1, to give the Welsh a good amount of time to learn about the new rules and to opt out of the program if they chose.
But ITV health and social affairs correspondent Rob Osborne says it appears that support for the new system is high.
“Most of the people here in Wales support the law. The government… has been very proactive in bringing it forward,” Osborne told CTV’s Canada AM from Cardiff, Wales.
The aim of the law is to increase organ donation in Wales. Although surveys show that nine out of 10 Welsh support organ donation, only 33 per cent of residents have put their names on the national organ donor register.
There are currently 224 people on transplant waiting lists in Wales, a country of 3 million, and the latest figures show 14 people died while waiting for a transplant in 2014-15.
It’s hoped that the new rules, which apply to any citizen over age 18, will increase organ donations by 25 per cent.
But the law has come under fire from some religious groups. Osborne reports that most Christian groups support organ donation as a principle but think the new law is a step too far, that donation should be a gift rather than an area in which the government should get involved.
Some within Muslim groups say it’s a good law because it prolongs life, while others believe that the body should be buried whole.
“So there are divisions within religious groups, not one harmonious, homogenous view,” Osborne said.
Osborne says the government has invested in public education campaigns, to inform the Welsh of the shortage of organ donors as well as how to opt in and opt out.
“There have been adverts on television consistently. Every house in Wales has been given information explaining what they can do (to opt out), there are posters everywhere you drive down the road – there has been a national debate here in Wales,” he said.
Those who do choose to opt out can visit a website and register their objection. The program is known as a “soft opt out” program, because it allows for some flexibility. If families know, for example, that their loved one did not wish to be an organ donor - even if they had not opted out - they can inform doctors and any organ donation will not take place.
Other parts of the United Kingdom are now watching to see if the new law improves donation rates as much as officials hope.
Canadian officials will likely be watching as well. Surveys suggest most Canadians prefer an opt-in rather than a presumed consent system.
In Ontario, for example, the Trillium Gift of Life network found that 63 per cent of survey respondents prefer opt-in because they feel organ donation is an individual choice.
For now in Wales, it seems the phase-in of law is going well, says Osborne.
“The support is positive,” he said. “Whether that will last when we get the results in a few years’ time, we’ll have to wait and see.”