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'Momentous day' as MSPs pass organ donation opt-out law

Scots will now have to declare that they don't want to donate their organs after death.

By STV News

Published 11 Jun 2019.

A Bill to introduce a soft "opt-out" system for organ and tissue donation has been passed by the Scottish Parliament.

The Human Tissue (Authorisation) (Scotland) Bill received a majority backing by MSPs following a debate by full parliament on Tuesday.

Up until now, donors have been required to "opt-in" in order for their organs to be donated, with many people carrying a donor card.

Now, Scotland will move to a system of presuming consent for organ donations.

Joe FitzPatrick, minister for public health, sport and wellbeing, told STV News that it was a "momentous day for Scotland".

He said: "I think this is a momentous day for Scotland today.

"It's the biggest change in organ donation legislation in Scotland since the Scottish Parliament came to power and I'm really excited."

Supporters of the Bill - which was introduced in June last year - believe it will increase the number of potential life-saving donors.

The Health and Sport Committee threw its support behind the legislation after hearing evidence from members of the public and a range of stakeholders, including witnesses from Wales where a similar "opt out" system was introduced in 2015.

Under the new rules, anyone over the age of 16 who has lived in Scotland for at least a year is considered to be a consenting donor, unless they opt-out.

However, the Bill includes provisions to make sure the wishes of families and next of kin continue to be respected, and excludes children and adults who do not have the capacity to understand the rules.

A campaign will be launched to raise awareness of the new law, however Mr FitzPatrick is urging members of the public to speak to their families about their final wishes.

The SNP MSP said: "I want to do everything we can to make sure we maximise the numbers of organ donations that are possible.

"We know that overwhelmingly most people in Scotland would want their organs to be used if they were to die in circumstances where that was possible, but that doesn't always happen.

"We have the organ donation register, and I'd still encourage people to do that, but deemed authorisation means that more people's wishes would be enacted upon.

"But it's really crucial that people have the conversations with their families, so their families know what their wishes would be.

"In terms of making sure people are aware of the legislation, we'll have at least a 12-months awareness-raising campaign across Scotland, raising awareness.

"And I hope as well as making sure people are aware of the new legislation, it will encourage them to have those conversations with their family."

Scottish Labour MSP Monica Lennon said the new law will "reduce anxious waits on transplant waiting lists".

She stated: "The passing of this Bill has the potential to save lives and have a transformative impact for people across Scotland.

"Scottish Labour has long been supportive of a soft opt-out system for organ donation, and I am delighted this Bill has passed today.

"The positive impact of organ donation cannot be understated. Organ transplants save lives, can improve quality of life and increased donations can reduce anxious waits on transplant waiting lists.

"Effective implementation is crucial, and the Scottish Government must invest in infrastructure, training and education to support an increase in organ donation."

More than half of Scotland's population are already registered to donate their organs or tissue after their death - the highest rate in Britain.

However, at any one time in Scotland there are more than 500 people waiting for a transplant, which could save or transform their lives.

British Heart Foundation (BHF) Scotland supports the new legislation, but stressed that infrastructure must be put in place that "maximises and follows through to people's wishes".

David McColgan, senior policy and public affairs manager at BHF Scotland, believes the new Bill is just the "start of the conversation".

He said: "Organ donation is a really life-threatening moment, so people who are waiting on organs are in dire need of these transplants.

"We know in Scotland that people are willing to donate their organs - the big challenge is only 1% of people in Scotland will ever die in a situation where that can happen.

"So we need to create a system that maximises and follows through to people's wishes.

"Family consent is a big problem in Scotland - we've got the lowest rate of family consent in the rest of the UK.

"So, we're hoping with the organ donation Bill passing today, that will normalise organ donation in Scotland.

"But that's not the end of the conversation. We need to look at infrastructure and staff training as well.

"Today's passing of the Bill is the start of a conversation, not the end of it."

Steve Donaldson, from Largs in North Ayrshire, had a heart transplant in 2010 after suffering severe heart failure.

He waited nine months on the organ donor transplant list before a suitable donor was found.

He said: "Any time the phone goes, you're like 'is it for me?'.

"It was quite demoralising waiting for the phone call because sometimes you thought 'is it ever going to come?'

"I'm just glad that the person's heart that I've got, they had the conversation with their family to say that they wanted to be an organ donor, and I can't thank them enough.

"It's changed my life so, so, so much. I went from literally being house-bound to being able to do all this cycling and travelling the world, and wow, it's a second life.

"I mean this guy, who I got his heart; he's the biggest hero in the world.

"Don't know who he is - all I can do is thank that family that they said yes. Every day he's through my mind - that I wouldn't be here without these guys."

In July, the 57-year-old will be competing in the British Transplant Games ahead of the World Transplant Games this autumn.

He added: "Taking part in the Transplant Games is something I never dreamed I would be able to do, but life is for living and I'm so looking forward to it.

"It's also allowed me to meet so many wonderful people who have been through similar experiences.

"My message to everyone is please sign the Organ Donation Register and have that conversation with your family about your wishes.

"It really can make all the difference. I fully back the Bill to move to an opt-out system.

"I am living proof of the difference a transplant can make."

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