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Organ donation rates have increased significantly in the UK in the last decade, but there is still a shortage of donors and hundreds of people die whilst waiting for an organ in the UK each year. One of the proposals to address this organ shortage is a move to an opt-out organ donation consent system.

The current organ donation system in England is an opt-in system. The Human Tissue Act 2004 sets out that a person can consent to donate their organs by expressing a view during their lifetime or by appointing a representative to consent on their behalf. If a decision on organ donation has not been made in these ways, their family will be asked to give consent. However, where the patient has not expressed a wish to donate, or their register status is not known, the latest family consent rate is only 48.5%. Where the patient’s wish to donate was known at the time of potential donation, 92% of families consent to donation.

In October 2017, the Prime Minister announced that the Government would introduce an opt-out consent system for organ donation in England. In December 2017, a Government consultation was published that sought views on this change.

The Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Bill 2017-19 was tabled by Labour MP, Geoffrey Robinson, after coming 6th in the Private Member’s Bill ballot in this parliamentary session and had its Second Reading on 23 February 2018. It was considered by a Public Bill Committee on 12 September 2018.

The Bill intends to amend the Human Tissue Act 2004 so that where a person has not made a decision regarding organ donation during their life, or appointed a representative for this purpose, the default position will be that consent will be deemed to have been given. The measures on deemed consent within the Bill will only apply in England. The Bill is tabled for Report Stage and Third Reading on 26 October 2018.

The organ donation consent system is a devolved issue. Wales has already moved to an opt-out consent system, introduced in December 2015, and the Scottish Government have introduced legislation on this issue in the current parliamentary session.

There is significant support for a change in the law in this area, from across the political parties, the public, and health organisations who believe it will lead to an increase in donors and will save lives. However, there has also been some opposition to the proposal to change the system from those who believe the evidence does not support a move to an opt out system, and that it may have negative impacts.

This briefing provides an overview of the current law on organ donation consent, the Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Bill, evidence reviews on this issue, and views.

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