Kidney patients welcome BMA’s continued support of change in law on organ donation

Welsh kidney patients have welcomed a vote at the BMA’s annual conference supporting a system of ‘soft opt out’ for organ donation. Some doctors had said that changing the law on organ donation would not save more lives and would damage trust in doctors – claims that have been angrily rejected by kidney patients.

One patient every week dies in Wales while waiting for an organ, yet just 30% of people have signed the organ donor register.

Melanie Wager, patient advocate at the Kidney Wales Foundation has endured more than 12 years of dialysis while waiting for a kidney to become available. She says doctors who oppose the move to a soft opt out system do not understand the impact of waiting on the organ donor register.

“We are relived that the BMA continues to support a system of opt out despite the sensationalist views of a minority of doctors. Patients waiting are living on death row and numbers are going up not down,” she said. “The system is clearly broken and efforts so far to increase the numbers on the organ donor register are not working on their own. How many more people need to die because of an outdated system that the vast majority of people want to change?

“Wales is seeking progress and so should the UK. The BMA has supported soft opt out for 10 years and it also has the support of leading charities, politicians as well as the public following lengthy public consultation exercises since 2008.”
The Welsh Government is the first in the UK to table a Bill to introduce a soft opt-out system for presumed consent on organ donation – a system which presumes consent unless the person has opted out, but still allows relatives to have the final say.

More than 500 people a year are on the transplant waiting list in Wales. But despite the chance to save lives, one doctor, a dermatologist from Swansea had said the move could damage trust in doctors and turn patients off from donating. Dr Sharon Blackford tabled a motion at the BMA’s annual conference in Cardiff urging it to withdraw its support for a change in the law, citing Spain as a example where a change in the law has not increased organ donation on its own.

In Belgium a “soft” opt-out system was introduced in 1986. Just 2% of the population has opted out of organ donation – and the national rate of organ donation rose by 55% within five years.

The latest figures show that in Belgium there were 291 deceased organ donors in 2007 compared to only 51 in Wales – Belgium has one of the highest rates of donors per million people in the world.

Sarah McGuire from Neath West Glamorgan whose son Josh received a transplant 17 years ago from a donor said:
“My young boy is now 19 and we see others waiting for a transplant . I understand doctors in my area are protesting at the BMA conference today in Cardiff. They are out of touch and need to be saving lives not protesting against it. The people of Wales through charities and other supporters know that this a modern way of thinking. The BMA is right. They are wrong. It is like the smoking ban such change is necessary and other countries like Belgium have shown the way”.
In the U.S., UK and in many other countries, the gap between the demand and the supply of human organs for transplantation is on the rise, despite the efforts of governments and health agencies to promote donor registration. In some countries of continental Europe, however, there is the principle of presumed consent. Abadie and Gaye analyzed the impact of presumed consent laws on donation rates affecting organ donation for 22 countries over a 10-year period. They found that while differences in other determinants of organ donation explain much of the variation in donation rates, after controlling for those determinants presumed consent legislation has a positive and sizeable effect on organ donation rates.

The Impact of Presumed Consent Legislation on Cadaveric Organ Donation: A Cross Country Study
Alberto Abadie
Harvard University – Harvard Kennedy School (HKS); National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)
Sebastien Gay
University of Chicago – Department of Economics
July 2004

Kidney Wales Foundation has been campaigning for over four years for a system of Soft Opt Out to be implemented in Wales.
Under the Kidney Wales favoured system of Soft Opt Out, Welsh residents are presumed to be organ donors on death unless:
•They have joined an opt out register
•They cannot be identified
•The person’s place of residence cannot be identified
•The wishes of the deceased can be proven to be contrary after relatives have been contacted
•Immediate relatives object.

For more information or interviews with families or patients please contact:
Tristan Williams
Communications and Events, Kidney Wales Foundation
029 2034 3940 or 07590 216 784Kidney patients welcome BMA