Page last updated at 11:14 GMT, Monday, 17 November 2008

Donor opt-outs 'not off agenda'

Donor card
The UK has one of the lowest organ donation rates in Europe

An "opt-out" system for organ donation is not off the agenda in Scotland, according to the health secretary.

Nicola Sturgeon said a system of "presumed consent", in which everyone is a potential donor unless they opt out, would be reconsidered in 2013.

It comes after UK government advisers rejected plans for presumed consent.

Ms Sturgeon said she would be guided by expert opinion, but the issue would be reviewed in five years, after a goal was set to nearly double organ donors.

The UK Organ Donation Taskforce - a government advisory committee - said there was little evidence that a move to presumed consent would increase availability of organs.

It concluded that more money should be spent on promoting the Organ Donor Register and that health departments across the UK should agree targets to increase numbers on the register.

Nine out of 10 people are in favour of organ donation - it's just unfortunate that less than a quarter are actually on the register at the moment
Dr George Fernie
BMA in Scotland

After the recommendations were published, Ms Sturgeon said she would be guided by expert opinion, despite remaining "personally sympathetic" to a move to the opt-out system.

She welcomed the report, which she said gave "much-needed clarity on the advantages and pitfalls of moving to an opt-out system".

"However, the issue of opt out is not completely off the agenda," she said.

"It will remain under review and will be formally reconsidered, in line with the taskforce's recommendation, in five years' time.

"We will provide the necessary extra resources in Scotland to meet the new challenge of increasing organ donation rates across the UK as a whole from their present level of 13 donors per million population to 24 donors per million population by 2013."

She said she had asked NHS Scotland to produce new awareness-raising material to inform people about the existing legislation.

'New challenge'

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he was not ruling out a change in the law in favour of presumed consent, despite the taskforce's recommendations.

Meanwhile, the British Medical Association in Scotland said doctors north of the border would still support a system of presumed consent.

Dr George Fernie from the BMA in Scotland described the taskforce's decision as "disappointing" but that the main aim should be to increase the number of donors.

"What puzzles me is that since I've been speaking on the subject for the BMA, nine out of 10 people are in favour of organ donation - it's just unfortunate that less than a quarter are actually on the register at the moment," he said.

The UK currently has one of the lowest organ donation rates in Europe.

There are currently around 8,000 people in the UK who need an organ transplant but only 3,000 operations are carried out each year.

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SEE ALSO
Medics mull organ donor options
09 Jun 08 |  Edinburgh, East and Fife
Organ donor numbers 'must rise'
05 Mar 08 |  Scotland

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