State Makes All Adults in England Organ Donors Unless They Object

Getty Images

Every adult in England is now an organ donor unless they explicitly inform the socialised National Health Service (NHS) that they object.

The Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Bill became law in March 2019, meaning that every adult of sound mind who lived in England at least one year before death is automatically considered an organ donor. Other exclusions apply, including those with certain health conditions.

Hitherto, to donate your organs, you would have to opt in to the system. As of Wednesday, people in England will have to inform the NHS either by phone or filling in an online form to register their refusal. Next-of-kin still has the right to deny organ and tissue harvesting after death even if you are registered on the system as a donor.

The website was unaccessible for parts of Wednesday morning, suggesting an early surge of interest in opting out of the new system.

A similar law was passed in Wales in 2015, with another set to hit the Scottish statute books in the autumn. Northern Ireland retains the scheme where bequeathing organs for transplants is still treated as a conscious donation.

Charities have hailed the activation of the law, with the NHS claiming it will result in 700 additional transplants a year by 2023. However, critics have observed that the law has fundamentally altered the concept of the donation as a “gift” if it is now “presumed”. Others warn that the government has taken a dangerous step in the ownership of one’s organs.

In March, ethics professor David Albert Jones, Director of the Anscombe Bioethics Centre, called the legislation “extremely regrettable”, saying at the time: “‘Deemed consent’ is a euphemism for taking organs without express consent, and this is no longer donation.”

He also challenged the NHS’s claim that presumed consent will increase the number of transplants by 700 a year, calling it “entirely bogus” and that it may actually reduce donations, according to comments reported by the Christian Institute.

He drew on evidence after a similar law was passed in Wales five years ago, noting that transplant rates in the small Celtic country had initially gone down while at the same time, active organ donation was increasing in neighbouring England and Scotland.

The Christian Institute’s Ciarán Kelly said after the bill was passed last year that it marked a “concerning shift in the balance of power between the state and the individual”.

While psychiatrist Dr Max Pemberton had written in December 2017 after the government had announced a public consultation on presumed consent: “[Donation is] 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.

“That’s not a gift in any sense of the word.”

Wednesday also saw another Big Government overreach into the private lives of Britons, with an EU law transposed into UK law banning the sale of menthol cigarettes and tobacco.

The director of the smokers’ advocacy group Forest, Simon Clark, warned that the UK might be “sleepwalking to prohibition” unless it used the opportunities afforded by Brexit to “reclaim personal liberties and its ability to craft its own laws”.

“Let’s not waste it by imposing further lifestyle regulations on a population tired of being told what to do,” Mr Clark added.


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.