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Here's How Organ Donation Has Changed

This year the law regarding organ donation changed from opt-in to opt-out. We know that deciding whether or not to donate can be a very personal issue, but it's an important one to consider when planning your future. Here's everything you need to know about organ donation, including how the process has changed in 2020.

Regardless of your opinion on whether organ donation is for you or not, it is undoubtedly one of the most miraculous achievements of modern medicine. It really can be a gift of life.

For this reason and others, it's important to be clear about whether you want to be an organ donor or not. In the event of your death, your family may be asked if you are a registered donor, and if not if whether they would like to donate your organs.

Knowing your wishes will ensure they are carried out and remove any potentially tricky decisions from family at an already difficult time. Often donation has to be done speedily, and so to have easy access to this information will ensure that if possible, your wishes are carried out.

Why choose to be an organ donor?

There are many reasons to choose to become an organ donor. Since the first kidney transplant in 1954 and the first heart transplant in 1967 many people have regained their life or seen their quality of life improve dramatically as the result of a transplant. Transplantation is a highly successful medical procedure and in most cases works well. However, as medical expertise increases fewer people are dying in the circumstances necessary for organ donation to take place, meaning fewer organs becoming available.

Many people like the idea that their organs and tissue can help someone else to live or have a better quality of life after their death. This can be comforting for family too, to know that in some way their loved one goes on and their death has not been in vain.

How do I make my decision on organ donation known?

This year the law regarding organ donation changed from opt-in to opt-out. This means that everyone in England, apart from those in the excluded group, will donate their organs unless they officially opt out of the system. You don't need to do anything unless you have decided you would like to opt-out. You can do that here.

The rules are different if you live in Wales and Scotland. In Wales, unless you have registered to not donate, then you will have given 'deemed consent' and will donate your organs upon your death. In Scotland, you have to opt-in to donate, however, this will change to deemed consent next year.

Who is in the excluded group?

Those in the excluded group include:

  • Those under the age of 18

  • People who lack the mental capacity to understand the new arrangements and take the necessary action

  • Visitors to England, and those not living here voluntarily

  • People who have lived in England for less than 12 months before their death

Why did the law change?

It is clear that there was a widespread need for more people to become organ donors. Three people used to die every day whilst waiting for an organ transplant. The catalyst for the law changing was largely due to a 9-year-old boy called Max. Whilst waiting eight months for a heart transplant, Max shared his story and campaigned for an opt-out system in the UK. Max eventually received a transplant from a young girl called Keira, who had tragically died in a car accident.

Max's campaigning set the wheels in motion for the law to change and in 2017 the process to change the system began. It was to be called Max's law, but Max wanted to honour the young girl who saved his life and so it is now commonly known as Max and Keira's Law.

What is organ donation and can anyone donate?

Organ donation is the process of a person donating his or her organs for transplant to someone with a damaged or failing organ, which needs to be replaced. Normally organ donation is done after someone has died. However, kidney transplants take place using live donors who are usually family members. It is important to note that not all deaths will be suitable for donation purposes; only deaths, which occur in hospital, are suitable.

Anyone can donate. However, if the donor is under the age of eighteen or sixteen in Scotland they will need parental consent to donate. Physical condition is more important than age in deciding whether donation is possible. Remember however that donation is not guaranteed; the circumstances of your death as well as your physical condition will decide whether you will be suitable. The only people who cannot donate are those who suffered from either HIV or CJD.

Can I choose what I donate? How is organ donation carried out?

Yes. All donors have the choice over which organs and tissues they choose to donate.

Organs usually come from people who have been certified dead while on a ventilator in a hospital intensive care unit. They will generally have died from a brain haemorrhage, major accident or stroke. When an organ becomes available it will be checked to see that it is healthy and to find out the blood and tissue type so that this can be matched to the recipient. People from the same ethnic group are more likely to be a close match.

If the donor is declared brain stem dead, artificial ventilation will have kept the blood and organs oxygenated and this will lead to a high success rate in transplant. Patients who have died following cardiac death must have their organs removed within a few minutes of death to prevent damage.

Can I be sure doctors will try to save me first if I am registered as a potential donor?

Yes. Health professionals have a duty of care to try and save life first. If a patient dies, organ and tissue donation can be considered at that point. A separate team of transplant specialists will be called in after death has occurred.

Can family see the body after organ donation, will donation delay the funeral?

Arrangements for viewing the body will be exactly the same as if organ donation did not take place, and as the operation to make a donation needs to be carried out quickly after death there will be no delay caused in arranging a funeral.

There can be no doubt that organ donation is a truly miraculous thing. Every year because of the generosity of donors and their families people in the UK are given a new lease of life. Whether you wish to donate or not, it is important to consider the issue now and ensure you express your wishes. There are no right or wrong decisions in this matter, just the right decision for you. Discuss it with your family and friends and let them know your thoughts.

Whether you're thinking about writing your Will, or planning out the next stages of your life, our associated business, Moss Solicitors can help you make the next steps. They can ensure that your wishes about organ donation are recorded so that your family know your decision. If you'd like to find out more or make the first step to getting started, please get in touch with them here.


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