BMA Scotland has today launched a film to highlight the importance of organ donation and the impact it can have on people’s lives. Despite a rise in the number of people signing up to the Organ Donor Register, there are still many people in Scotland waiting for an organ transplant. Some of these people will die while they are waiting, whilst others will have died without even reaching the waiting list. Meanwhile, repeated studies show that up to 90% of Scotland’s population supports organ donation, yet less than half have signed up to the register.
The BMA believes that a change to an opt out system for organ donation, as part of the continuing work to increase the number of organs for donation, would help to address the problem. This would make donation the default position from which people may opt out during their lifetime if they choose to do so. Given the exceptionally high level of support for donation, this is simply making it easier for people to achieve their wish to donate.
Dr Sue Robertson, a member of the BMA’s Scottish Council and a renal physician, said: "The whole transplant community works tremendously hard to increase the levels of organ donation with significant support from the Scottish Government. However, we believe that more can be done and more lives can be saved.
"Last year the BMA issued a report, Building on Progress: Where next for organ donation policy in the UK? which considered other options to increase organ donation, and whether as a society, we needed to do more for those people still waiting for a transplant. The report concluded that the best way forward for the UK was to introduce an opt-out system with safeguards, otherwise known as a "soft opt out system".
Unless an individual had registered an objection to donating their organs, or their family was aware of any objection, the default position would be to donate. Creating this kind of system would allow the wishes of the individual to be taken into account and would increase further the number of organs available for transplant.
Dr Robertson added, "As long as there are patients waiting for transplants, the BMA believes that a soft opt-out system, as part of the overall package to increase donation, would save more lives. Now is the time for a serious debate about moving to opt-out."
Drew Smith MSP said: "Although we are making good progress with organ donation in Scotland, there are still almost 650 people who are waiting for an organ. I believe that a move to an opt-out system would save and improve lives. People are dying unnecessarily due to a chronic shortage of organs, and some people are dying without their wishes to donate their organs being respected.
"I hope this video encourages people to sign up to the organ donor register, and have that conversation about being a donor with their loved ones."
Gill Hollis, a lung transplant recipient who participated in the film, said: "I wouldn’t be here today without my transplant, so I am incredibly grateful to my donor family; their generosity saved my life. But I was one of the lucky ones – I received my transplant in time. I’ve also supported people through the waiting process who did not receive an organ in time, and that’s been heartbreaking. So you can see why I feel passionately about initiatives to address the organ shortage. An opt-out system should help more people have their lives saved and transformed.
"In the meantime, however, it is vital that people talk to their loved ones about their wishes and discuss openly their views on organ donation so that, if the time comes, they can make a decision which reflects the individual’s wishes."
The film can be viewed online.