The Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Bill received Royal Assent on Friday, meaning that from 2020 all of England’s adult residents of sound mind will be presumed to have “consented” to having their organs donated after death unless they have specified otherwise.
The law, similar to that adopted in Wales in 2015, “will mean adults in England will be considered potential donors unless they chose to opt out or are excluded,” according to a Government statement.
Excluded are those who have not lived in England for at least one year before their death, those who “lack the mental capacity to understand the changes for a significant period before their death,” and children under the age of 18.
Those who do not want their organs to be taken will need to actively inform the National Health Service, by recording their choice on the NHS Organ Donation Register. Next of kin are still able to object.
The government believes that presuming consent will help reduce the list of people currently waiting for an organ; however, the similar Welsh law has so far failed to increase the number of donated organs.
Sceptics of the law say that better campaigning, education, and more trained staff to discuss organ donation with people would increase the numbers of those actively signing up to donate.
It has also raised questions of the moral implications, and issues of personal autonomy, if the state can presume rights over a person’s organs after death.
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The Christian Institute’s Ciarán Kelly advises that “The law should respect the voluntary nature of organ donation. This is also a concerning shift in the balance of power between the state and the individual.”
NHS psychiatrist Dr Max Pemberton said, “It’s no longer a powerful and generous gift that brings families together, but an assumption by the State that it can do what it wants with your body.”
While medical ethicist Dr Piers Benn said in August, in advance of the bill being debated in the House of Commons, that it could leave some people feeling “cheated” and “uncomfortable”.
“The issue really is how do we weigh up the number of lives saved with the need to respect fully the consent of the person who has just died to what happens to their organs,” Dr Benn said.
Telegraph comment editor Tom Welsh wrote that “politicians are completely blinded to how seriously people take the principle of active consent.
“Presumed consent upsets many precisely because it is presumptuous: it turns donation from a wonderful gift into a mechanical process of appropriation; more disturbingly, it subtly shifts the ownership of our bodies to the state.”
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