Wales organ donation opt-out: Rethink on family's role

Lesley Griffiths said she would listen to concerns about family involvement

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The role of relatives of deceased organ donors will be rethought by the Welsh government in plans to change the law.

Health Minister Lesley Griffiths faced questions from AMs about how family and friends get involved in decisions about taking organs after death.

Some AMs said they wanted more weight given to the views of close relatives.

The proposed opt-out system would mean everyone is deemed to be a willing organ donor when they die, unless they state otherwise.

Start Quote

It's the lack of transparency that concerns me and that's the one thing that keeps coming back from some of the witnesses we have had”

End Quote Mick Antoniw Labour AM

The Human Transplantation (Wales) Bill says that if a potential donor has not opted out, their next of kin can tell doctors about the wishes of the deceased.

The Welsh government is proposing to create an unranked list of relatives and friends who would have the right to be involved in decisions about whether to take organs.

Anyone on the list could provide information to clinicians if they can make a reasonable case that they know what the deceased would have wanted.

Where families do not know the deceased's wishes, he or she will have deemed to have consented.

This does not mean that donation will automatically happen because doctors will have a responsibility to consider the views of the family. However, the family will not have a legal veto to stop organs being taken.

At the moment, the current system gives more weight to close relatives.

Giving evidence to the assembly's health committee on Wednesday, Health Minister Lesley Griffiths said she would "reflect" on potential problems with an unranked list.

'Final say'

Conservative AM Darren Millar said a ranked list would make it clear "who has the final say" about whether someone's organs can be taken if they have not opted out of the donor register.

Labour AM Mick Antoniw said: "It's the lack of transparency that concerns me and that's the one thing that keeps coming back from some of the witnesses we have had.

"One of the experts that came to give us evidence actually said if it is the case that any member of the family can object then that will actually probably lead to fewer donations than we actually have at the moment."

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Clearly the unranked list is a cause of concern for some people and I think perhaps we do need to reflect on this”

End Quote Health Minister Lesley Griffiths On the role of the family

AMs were told that when someone has not opted out, human rights legislation means there must be a safeguard so families and friends can provide information about whether or not the deceased consented to their organs being taken.

The unranked list was supposed to give a "wide range of opportunities for people to bring forward evidence," officials said.

It is designed to take account of situations where someone does not come from a traditional family and may have shared their wishes with a long-standing friend.

However, Mrs Griffiths said: "Clearly the unranked list is a cause of concern for some people and I think perhaps we do need to reflect on this".

If presumed consent is introduced, the Welsh government will launch a publicity campaign so people are aware of the change in the law.

Mrs Griffiths said the £2.9m set aside for the 10-year campaign - most of which will be spent in the first two years - was "sufficient".

Around 31% of people in Wales are on the organ donor register.

The Welsh government thinks about 15 more people a year will become donors under a presumed consent system, resulting in about 45 more organs that will be available for donation anywhere in the UK.

Mrs Griffiths assured AMs the health service had the capacity to deal with the extra work required.

"It's not a huge amount and health boards have assured me they will be able to cope with that," she said.

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