BMA reports on organ donation

14 February 2012
A new report by the British Medical Association’s Medical Ethics Committee, “Building on Progress: Where next for organ donation in the UK?” has been produced as part of its ongoing work on organ transplantation.

It acknowledges that since the Organ Donation Taskforce report was published four years ago there have been major changes and significant improvements to the organ donation system in the UK. However, the report highlights that reaching the 50% target by 2013 will be a significant challenge and, even if it is achieved, people waiting for an organ will still die needlessly.

The report describes various proposals that the BMA Ethics Committee believe could expand the number of donors available under the current opt-in system, some of which pose significant ethical dilemmas. One option is to use organs from ‘higher risk’ groups, for example using organs from older people. It also reviews other organ donation systems that have been suggested as ways to expand the pool of donors available, some of which are already being piloted in parts of the UK. These include paying the funeral expenses of those who sign up to the Organ Donor Register and go on to donate organs after their death, prompted choice which could expand the driving licence scheme where individuals are asked to answer a question about organ donation and introducing an opt-out system with safeguards. The report describes each option before providing the BMA view on whether the Association supports it or not.

Having considered the range of options and reviewed the research evidence available, the BMA remains convinced that an opt-out system is the best option for the UK and the most likely to make a difference in terms of donation rates.

Chairman of the BMA’s Medical Ethics Committee, Dr Tony Calland said:

“We are at a crossroads in terms of public policy. As a society we need to decide whether we should accept that we have done all we can or whether we should move forward, cautiously, and look at other options for increasing the number of donors. There needs to be a public debate on what will work for the UK so that people on the transplant list do not die waiting for a donor.

“These are complex issues that throw up many ethical challenges. It is important that society discusses them openly in a reassuring way. The aim here is to save lives while at the same time protecting individual rights and autonomy. While our report explores a number of options the BMA continues to believe that an opt-out system with safeguards is the best way forward for the UK.”

Eve Richardson, Chief Executive of the Dying Matters Coalition and the National Council for Palliative Care stated:

“Organ donation is a really important issue, and one which it is essential society discusses and debates. At the Dying Matters Coalition we know that many people want to talk about dying, death and bereavement but are not always sure how best to do this or confident enough to bring up the issue with those close to them or with health and care professionals. An informed public debate on organ donation as part of a more open approach to discussing dying, death and bereavement will help us all to make more informed choices about life and death issues. With more than 16,000 members the Dying Matters Coalition remains committed to supporting people to have sensitive discussions about dying and to ensuring that more and more people talk about organ donation and how they can take small actions which can have a big difference – and we look forward to working with partners including the BMA and NHS Blood and Transplant to take this forward.”

Read the full report at http://www.bma.org.uk/ethics/organ_transplantation_donation/buildingonprogress.jsp

More information on organ donation is available here: http://www.dyingmatters.org/page/organ-donation

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