Presuming consent for organ donation

Over the course of the next few months The Whitehouse Consultancy will be looking at several Private Members Bills tabled during the current parliamentary session which have considerable potential to become law.

Private Members Bills can be introduced by MPs or peers who are not government ministers and must go through the same stages as any other bill to become an act of Parliament. We start with the Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Bill.


Currently anyone in England who wants to donate their organs after death has to “opt in” through a donor card scheme. Labour MP Geoffrey Robinson has put forward a bill which, if passed, will implement a system of presumed consent whereby organs will be removed at death unless the donor has explicitly refused in advance.

Last year 500 people in England died on the waiting list for a heart, lungs, a kidney or a liver and there are currently more than 6,500 patients on the organ transplant waiting list. Despite several high-profile campaigns the UK still has the lowest rates of organ donation in Europe. Mr Robinson believes that legislation for presumed consent is the only way of addressing this acute organ shortage.

Wales instituted a system of presumed consent through the Human Transplantation Act which came into effect in December 2015. The following year, the Organ Donation Annual Report in Wales registered a seven percent increase in organ donations, including a 20% increase in kidney donations. Further afield, Spain, the United States, Croatia, Belgium and Austria have embraced systems of presumed consent.

Arguments for and against

Champions of the Bill argue that the law as it stands now condemns many people to an unnecessary death simply because of the shortage of willing donors. The British Medical Association argues that “bodies are buried or cremated complete with organs that could have been used to save lives.”

On the other side some maintain that the proposals have the potential to undermine the concept of giving organs as a gift. Conservative MP Fiona Bruce contends that a system in which silence is interpreted as consent is a dangerous one and she is calling for better initiatives to encourage people to opt-in, rather than the State merely presuming consent.

In 2008, then Prime Minister Gordon Brown gave his support to a system of presumed consent but changed his mind after the taskforce he commissioned to analyse the issue advised against it on the grounds that the system would erode trust in medical professionals.

What happens next?

The Bill receives its Second Reading (the first opportunity for MPs to debate general content) in the House of Commons today – Friday, 23 February. At the end of the debate a vote will be held on whether the bill progresses to the next step – Committee Stage.

Only 11% of Private Members Bills become law but this bill has a far greater chance of success as it has been backed by the Government, along with both Labour and the Liberal Democrats. The biggest test for supporters of the Bill will be ensuring that enough MPs come out to vote on Friday – a day when the bulk of MPs are back in their constituencies.

Government consultation

In October 2017 Theresa May announced a consultation on organ donation to help the Government establish how changes to the transplant system should be made. The consultation runs until 6 March 2018. If you would like to discuss the consultation or require further information on the impact this Bill might have, please do get in touch with Ben Rochelle – 020 7138 3681.