Thursday, 18 February 2016

Scotland needs an organ donor opt out scheme

I've had a letter published in the Largs paper this week about presumed consent with organ donation, lamenting the Scottish Parliament not voting it through last week, as recently done in Wales:

Dear Sir,

About 12 years ago I made a BBC television documentary in which I followed the transplant unit of the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh for several months, where I had the great privilege to not only get to know the staff and surgical teams at the unit, but also many of those waiting on the organ donor list. One of those I was fortunate to follow over a period of five months was a young 18 year old student from Linlithgow, who was in need of a functioning kidney. He had been on the list for so long because of the severe shortage of donor organs that in the end his own mother decided to donate one of her two healthy kidneys in a live transplant operation. I followed the family on their emotional journey throughout the process, including the transplant procedure itself, but tragedy soon followed its aftermath, when the young lad's immune system rejected his mother's donor organ. At the start of the programme I interviewed the young lad whilst he was hooked up to a dialysis machine, and heard his hopes for a free and normal life ahead of him; at the end of the film, following the failed organ's removal from his body, he was back on the same machine again, thoroughly dejected, with no idea where his salvation would come from the dialysis routine within which he was once again trapped.

Last Tuesday 9th February I watched with interest the Holyrood debate on the organ transplant presumed consent bill, created by Anne McTaggart, and supported passionately by many members across party lines, including our local MSP Kenneth Gibson. Whilst on this occasion the bill was rejected, although sympathetically received, it is a goal that I believe is still worth pursuing, and one which I hope our elected representatives will continue to push hard for. Having seen first hand just how difficult it is to secure suitable donor material for those waiting on the list, something certainly needs to be done.

In Wales, a system of presumed consent for the use of donor organs after death was put into operation from December last year, with a two year campaign there currently educating the public on how the system works, and how they can opt out should they choose to do so. The notion of presumed consent is one which it is hoped will significantly increase the numbers of potential donors available. Many of the lives that may be saved from this will be in Scotland, as the organs sourced from Wales will be available for use across the UK. I have heard sincere arguments from individuals against the notion of presumed consent, but it seems to me that many of these ignore the fact that consent still lies at the heart of the system, which can be freely removed as much as it can be given.

Until if and when such changes can be brought in, however, I would urge anyone who has not signed up to the current donor register to seriously consider doing so, via

Chris Paton

UPDATE 3 DEC 2016: One year on from the introduction of presumed consent in Wales, there have been some incredibly encouraging developments and tangible results as a result of the initiative, with the consent rate up from 49% to 59%, and an increase in the living donor rate of 20%. A summary of the findings is available at

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