Scotland politics

Scots government 'not opposed' to opt-out organ donation

Donor card Image copyright Science Photo Library
Image caption Labour MSP Anne McTaggart brought forward a backbench bill calling for a "soft opt-out" organ donation system

The Scottish government would consider an organ donation opt-out if a similar system trialled in Wales goes well.

Health minister Maureen Watt said she was not opposed to the idea of an opt-out system "in principle".

However, she voiced concerns about the Transplant Bill featuring a "soft opt-out" put before the Health and Sport Committee by Labour's Anne McTaggart.

She said "real progress" has been made, with transplant numbers up and the waiting list down 20% since 2007.

At present, organs are only removed after someone's death if they "opt in" by signing up for the NHS Organ Donation Register.

Ms McTaggart brought forward a backbench bill proposing a "soft opt-out" system, which would permit the removal of organs unless the person objected during their lifetime.

Families would also be consulted on the death of a loved one to establish any objection that had not been registered.

'No principled opposition'

Ms Watt said the government had no principled opposition to such a system, but said caution was needed.

She said the majority of witnesses called before the committee had expressed "significant concerns" about the measures in the bill, and said the government had "very real concerns about the harm that may be done if this bill passes".

She said the Scottish government could start a consultation on the matter after a year or two of evidence from the system now being trialled in Wales.

Image caption Health minister Maureen Watt said she wanted to see how the opt-out system in Wales develops

Professor John Forsythe, the lead clinician for organ donation and transplantation in Scotland, also said he wanted to "wait and see" how the situation in Wales develops.

He said if he was certain that legislation would increase the number of donors, he would be "pushing people out of the way to get into the queue for that". He admitted new donor numbers had "stalled" in recent years.

However, committee convener Duncan McNeil said people waiting for organ transplants would not want a swifter decision.

He said: "The people who are on the transplant list are not enthused about waiting two or three years to see how Wales get on, because they're losing people every week, that's what they tell me."

This was echoed by Ms McTaggart, who said Scotland "can't afford to wait" over the plans "while people are dying".

Image caption Anne McTaggart said she was "appalled" and "disgusted" by some of the statements at the committee

The Glasgow MSP said she was "appalled" and "disgusted" by some of the "mistruths" she had heard at the committee.

She asked: "Why are we the worst in the UK for organ donation rates? Why should we not strive to be better?"

Ms McTaggart has claimed such a change could see the number of organs available for transplant operations increase by up to 30%.

She said that "astonishing figure" could give hope to all those on organ waiting lists.

She told the committee: "Unfortunately the demand still far outweighs the number or organs being donated.

"There are currently 571 people waiting for a transplant, although this does not include the large number of people who became too ill for a transplant and were taken off the list.

"Over 50 years of evidence shows us that a soft opt-out system works - there is absolutely no reason why Scotland couldn't be among the best countries in the world for organ donation.

"The improvements are welcome, absolutely welcome, but they were starting from an extremely low rate. The Scottish government takes the view that doing better than 2007 is good enough, but with respect should that really be the extent of our ambition in Scotland?

"Please, please consider the impact this legislation could have on people's lives. Give those 571 people waiting for an organ transplant the gift of hope."

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