‘No evidence’ opt-out system will boost organ donation

Presumed organ donation will not necessarily increase the number of organs available and could lead to “serious mistakes”, a Christian charity and a bioethics group have warned.

CARE for Scotland and the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics made the comments as the Scottish Parliament’s Health and Sport Committee considers a Bill to introduce a new organ donation system.

Under the plans, people would have to ‘opt out’ rather than being able to ‘opt in’, as is the case under the current system. The proposal would permit the removal of organs unless an objection from the deceased or their proxy is known.

Not proven

CARE for Scotland said figures from countries where a similar system is in place actually show a fall in organ donations.

The group also stated that in Northern Ireland, where presumed consent is not used, there were higher levels of organ donation than Scotland in 2013-14.

Dr Gordon Macdonald, CARE for Scotland’s Parliamentary Officer, said that while the proposed system ‘looks and sounds good’, it is “not proven to work”.


He instead called for more work in schools, colleges and universities to raise awareness of the need for organ donations.

“The State does not have a right to anyone’s organs and even a so called soft opt-out system ruins the nature of organ donation as an altruistic gift”, he said.

The Scottish Council on Human Bioethics (SCHB) said it “is extremely concerned about the potential for serious mistakes” as a result of the plans.

‘Investigating persons

It raised concerns over “authorised investigating persons” – health professionals who would decide whether organs could lawfully be removed and used for transplants.

Director of Research at SCHB, Dr Calum MacKellar, said: “Instead of having to get the nearest relative, all that has to be done is that the Authorised Investigating Person states that they have not had access to the relatives or proxy and they – an NHS person – authorise the use of organs.”

The Transplantation (Authorisation of Removal of Organs etc.) (Scotland) Bill is currently at Stage 1 of consideration by MSPs.