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Polls find growing support for presumed consent

Figures released today indicate that public support is growing in the UK for a system of presumed consent for organ donation.

According to the survey, 26% of respondents said they were on the NHS Organ Donor Register, 62% said they would be willing to donate organs for transplantation after death, and 64% said the UK should move to a system of presumed consent for organ donation.

The survey was undertaken by UK internet-based market research firm YouGov. The findings were released by the British Medical Association (BMA).

A previous BMA survey on presumed consent, in 2004, found that 60% of respondents were in favour of moving to an “opt-out” system for donation.

Here, “presumed consent” means adults who do not wish to donate their organs after death would have to make their feelings known during their lifetime — that is, consent would otherwise be presumed. The proposed system would include safeguards for people who did not wish to donate their organs or whose family would be seriously distressed if donation were to proceed.

Every year in the UK hundreds of people die because there are not enough organs available for transplantation.

The BMA says it believes moving to a system of presumed consent, combined with other reforms to the transplant infrastructure, would play an important part in improving the organ donation system.

Dr Tony Calland, chairman of the BMA’s Medical Ethics Committee, said: “These figures demonstrate that support amongst the public is growing for presumed consent.

“We need to build on this support to ensure that people understand that there will never be compulsion to donate. There will always be a choice and people who do not wish to donate will be free to opt out. Discussions with the family should also continue before donation takes place.”

He went on: “We know that many people who are willing to donate organs simply never get around to making their views known. We believe the publicity that will precede the introduction of a new system will encourage people to think about their wishes and discuss them with their family.

“Those who do not wish to donate have the right to opt out and that wish must be respected. Surveys show that the majority of patients will not take this step and therefore the number of organs available for transplantation will increase.”

Dr Calland added: “The BMA is extremely pleased that the Health Secretary is now seriously considering this option and has asked the Organ Donation Task Force to investigate the issues.

“We hope the Government will take note of the growing level of public support for this change.”

The survey, carried out on 9—11 October 2007 in England, Wales and Scotland, sampled more than 2,000 people over the age of 18.

YouGov survey