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Opt-out organ donation bill passed into English law

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An opt-out system of organ donation in England has been passed into law in a historic move expected to save up to 700 lives a year.

The Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Bill has today received royal assent, which makes it an act of parliament.

“It’s important that everyone takes the time to discuss their choices on donation”

Theresa May

The legislation will take effect in spring next year and will mean adults will be assumed donors unless they chose to opt-out.

It is known as Max and Keira’s law in honour of a boy who received a heart transplant and the girl who donated it.

Three people die in the UK each day while on the waiting list. Currently, 80% of people in England support organ donation but only 37% have put this on record. 

Families must give consent for a relative’s organs to be donated after their death, but less than half do so if they are unaware of their wishes. 

Theresa May

Theresa May

Theresa May

The government will launch a public awareness campaign about the new system before it comes into force and it is hoped this will inspire people to think about their wishes and express them to their relatives.

Specialist nurses will still be responsible for supporting families with organ donation, noted the government.

Prime minister Theresa May said the change could save as many as 700 lives a year. 

“With significantly more people willing to consider organ donation than are actually registered as donors, this vital step will presume consent unless people choose to opt out of being a donor,” Ms May said.

“It’s important that everyone takes the time to discuss their choices on donation with their families and register their wishes, whatever their preference may be,” she said. 

In addition, Ms May thanked campaigners who fought “tirelessly” to raise awareness of the issue.

“Organ donation will remain a priceless gift”

Jackie Doyle-Price

Mental health and inequalities minister Jackie Doyle-Price described the change as “remarkable”.

“Organ donation is a deeply personal decision for everyone, which is why we will be launching a public awareness campaign to ensure people understand the new system and the choices available to them,” she said.

“Under the new law, being an organ donor will still be your choice – organ donation will remain a priceless gift,” Ms Doyle-Price said.

The opt-out law will not apply to children under 18; people who lack the mental capacity to understand the changes for a significant period before their death; and people who have not lived in England for at least 12 months before they die.

Those who do not wish to donate their organs will be able record their decision on the NHS organ donation register, through NHS Blood and Transplant’s website or helpline, or on the new NHS app.

The government will also consult on whether certain organs should be excluded from the system.

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