Archbishop of Wales Barry Morgan last week sparked controversy by saying plans for a ‘presumed consent’ organ donation policy would turn ‘volunteers into conscripts’. After the Archbishop defended his view in these pages yesterday, Roy J Thomas, chairman of Kidney Wales Foundation, today gives his view of why such a policy is urgently needed…

One person dies every week in Wales waiting for a transplant. It has been proved a change in legislation to a system of soft opt out will save lives. Britain continues to have one of the lowest organ donation rates in Europe.

A chronic shortage of organs for transplantation has and continues to be one of the pressing health policy issues in developed countries. The demand for human organs in transplantation is increasing despite the efforts of governments and health agencies to support organ donation.

The Blood and Transplant Organ Donation Register is a fine example of making us all feel good when registering but is still not solving the problem.

Research has shown that a soft opt-out organ donation proposal – where organs are taken unless the donor has specifically opted out or families refuse – could increase donation rates by up to 25%. Under this system, let’s repeat, families would still be entitled to prior consultation, and have a right to refuse. There would not – and must never – be any hint of compulsion by the State – to unwisely indicate that the State will own our bodies is wrong.

The system clearly needs change. The Welsh Government is showing leadership while some wish to keep the present law or tinker with the system.

A fear of an anti-donation backlash is one reason why civil servants and health professionals in England have chosen not to recommend dramatic changes to the current arrangements. It feared vociferous lobbying against presumed consent would corrode wider support for organ donation in general. Some in a minority have been swayed by some healthcare professionals who feared public trust in them might be harmed if it was felt – however mistakenly – that the prospect of “harvesting” organs might be a factor in treating some seriously ill patients.

Those are pessimistic arguments indeed. They assume the Welsh public’s propensity to mistrust doctors is extreme and irreversible, and that a concerted campaign by the minority opposed to donation on principle would easily convince the large majority who are in favour. The opposite might also be true.

When Belgium introduced the opt-out system in 1986 its national rate of organ donation rose by 55% within five years. Belgians can take themselves off the register but only 2% have. In Spain, where a similar system exists, there are 35 donors per million compared with just 13 in Wales and 14.9 in the UK as a whole.

As is our experience in Wales, the UK Organ Donation Taskforce – the UK Government committee set up to consider ways to increase registration – found in its fact-finding missions that exposure to all arguments, for and against, often won people around to presumed consent. In Wales some say that an Assembly Health Committee some years ago was against it – this is wrong. The report did not rule it out. Indeed, some influential members were in totally in favour – as are a majority of Assembly Members now across all political divides. Misinformation is unfortunate and the Church in Wales representatives have even started to get in on the act using words like “conscription” and” asset stripping” – conduct described by many patients and families as unchristian.

Let’s hope that the standard of debate when legislation is introduced will rest on the truth and the facts.

Roy J Thomas is chairman of Kidney Wales Foundation

Read More http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/2011/09/27/essay-truth-and-facts-essential-in-the-organ-donation-debate-91466-29493793/#ixzz1Z9tJ2dHlArchbishop of Wales Barry Morgan last week sparked controversy by saying plans for a