A decision that could save lives

Parliament said no, but you should say yes

Last night a bill aimed at saving hundreds of lives every year failed at Holyrood, and somehow it isn’t top of the news agenda.  The Transplantation (Authorisation of Removal of Organs etc.) (Scotland) Bill, introduced by Labour MSP Anne McTaggart last year, failed by 59 votes to 56, as the SNP Government voted against the measure.

The bill was aimed at changing the way in which people are registered to become organ donors in favour of an opt-out approach that would automatically include everyone who did not explicitly state a wish that their organs NOT be donated after death.  This would mean a massive expansion in the organ donation register here in Scotland and mean that hundreds, if not thousands, more patients each year could benefit from life-saving organ transplants.

Another key feature of the bill was that people would be able to nominate a proxy to make the decision on their behalf after death, in case of family objection or other such reasons.  This provides an option for the many people who are uneasy about organ donation solely because of the effect on their family.

It’s rare that a piece of legislation can be seen to do such all-round good as this one would have done, but still it was defeated.  Even though the concerns of those who were opposed or unsettled by the principles of organ donation were addressed clearly and conscientiously, the bill was defeated.  This should be a national embarrassment.

The figures on this issue are startlingly clear in their support of an opt-out organ donation system, with these bullet points all being quotes from the SPICe briefing on the bill (with highlights my own):

  • In Scotland over the period 2008-2013 62% of donors were not on the register at the point of death.
  • In Scotland two thirds of eligible donations do not occur resulting in a missed opportunity to save a life.
  • A study published in 2010 concluded that opt-out systems are associated with relatively higher rates of deceased donation… (Bird and Harris, 2010). This was also found in a recent study… (Shepard et al., 2014).
  • In a 2014 British Heart Foundation (BHF) Scotland and British Medical Association Scotland commissioned a poll, which found that 94% of Scots said they support the principle of organ donation however only 41% of the population are registered as donors. In a 2015 commissioned poll by BHF Scotland 80% of Scots said they would want to donate their organs if they were to die in a situation that allowed them. However in 2014/15 only 28% of Scots did donate their organs.

These figures clearly show that an opt-out organ donation system would greatly benefit our NHS and that it would have overwhelming public support.  But still this bill was voted down.

The reasons the Scottish Government had for opposing the bill were both financial, and perhaps political too.  The Scottish Government believed that the cost of this system would be far higher than anticipated, costing £22.2 million over 10 years rather than the estimated £7.5 million.

More troubling was last night’s revelation by SNP MSP John Mason that he (and perhaps other MSPs) voted against the bill because, in his own words, 1) Labour whipped their MSPs to vote for it, 2) Labour’s aggressive tone, 3) Labour finance spokesperson Jackie Baillie closed the debate rather than Anne McTaggart, who introduced the bill.  Although Mason himself claims to have voted for the bill, the idea that the Government tried to make a party political point instead of saving hundreds of their citizens’ lives every year is scandalous.

I believe that an opt-out organ donation system is one of the least political issues there could ever be, and passing a law that allows for it would be one of the most life-changing, life-saving actions that the Scottish Parliament could hope to undertake.  Whatever the cost of implementing such a system, surely it pales in comparison to the massive cost of treating those on a growing transplant waiting list?  The reasoning against opting to donate your organs is shaky at best, and the callousness and short-sightedness of not encouraging it in legislation is reckless.

Defeating this organ donation bill was a grave error made by the Scottish Government and a mistake that they should fix as soon as possible in the next Parliament to save lives.

So while organ donation in Scotland is still an opt-in system, please take just two minutes to fill in a simple form and take your chance to save lives.

It’s an easy decision to make, and while the Government and Parliament said no last night, you should say yes.

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