Organ donation could change from opt-in to opt-out

The idea that Danes will automatically be considered organ donors in the future has moved a step closer after Venstre’s u-turn on the issue

Despite overwhelming support for the idea of organ donation, few people are actually donors. That's because, as the law stands today, citizens have to actively sign up to be an organ donor. But a shift of stance by opposition party Venstre (V) may lead to that changing.

V has been opposed the notion that Danes be automatically registered as organ donors, but now party spokesperson Sophie Løhde has indicated that presumed consent could help solve the considerable lack of organ donation in Denmark.

”We should look at organ donation with fresh eyes and actively consider new initiatives, including presumed consent,” Løhde said, according to metroXpress newspaper. “The goal is clear and the gap between organ donor advocates and those enrolled should be decreased, which is why we should look at a political solution.”

Nearly 500 people are currently on the organ donor transplant waiting list, and last year 76 people died while waiting for a donated organ.

But while the health minister, Astrid Krag (Socialistisk Folkeparti), said that she is pleased that there is a vibrant discussion about the increase of prospective organ donors, she doesn’t support the automated solution.

”The most decisive part will always be that the individual relates to the question about whether he or she wishes to be a donor, and speaks with their loved ones,” Krag told metroXpress. “It is the family that faces a difficult time after a death, and that’s why I’m sceptical about automated solutions which don’t include the family discussion.”

Gunna Christiansen, a medical professor and member of the ethical council Etisk Råd, maintained that the question of organ donation is very sensitive and personal. Her biggest concern is the lack of available information.

“Generally speaking, many Danes don’t know that the criteria for death is,” Christiansen told metroXpress. “And without a clear agreement that you’re dead when your brain is dead, then you can’t implement presumed consent regarding organ donation, because people don’t know what they are agreeing to.”

A YouGov panel poll from early August indicated that out of over 1,000 people asked, 56 percent agreed that presumed consent, or an opt-out system, was the way forward, while only 23 percent disapproved. Some 15 percent were neutral and six percent were unsure.

Stig Hedegaard Kristensen, the head of the kidney association Nyreforeningen, agreed that it was a difficult topic, and said he could understand religious or cultural views that argue against it, but argued that a decision now could ease the additional strain on the families of the person donating.

“It’s kind of like preparing for your own funeral and I can’t say anything other than it’s a hard decision,” Kristensen told metroXpress. “But when you do it, you relieve your next of kin from making that decision. The question will be asked if you have been in a traffic accident, and your family will know your wishes and won’t have to face that choice.”

As of 2010, 24 European countries – including Austria, Belgium, France, Hungary, Poland, Portugal and Sweden – have some form of opt-out system. According to the British newspaper the Daily Telegraph, the UK is also considering an opt-out programme for organ donation.

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