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Organ donation change in law factsheet

Friday 30 August 2019, Support

by NHSBT

Organ donation change in law factsheet

Relevant to
NHSBT

From spring 2020 the law around organ donation in England is changing

What is organ and tissue donation?

Organ and tissue donation is giving your organs and/or tissues to help save or improve the lives of others when you die.

One organ donor can save or transform the lives of up to nine people. Tissue transplants can also significantly improve a person’s quality of life. This might be a cornea to help someone see again, a replacement heart valve to treat a heart defect, or skin to treat severe burns.

Why is the law around organ donation changing?

Around three people in need of an organ die each day across the UK, because not enough organs are available for transplant. Only 1% of people die in circumstances that would allow them to donate.

What is changing?

From spring 2020, all adults in England will be considered to have agreed to be an organ and tissue donor when they die, unless they recorded a decision not to donate, or are in one of the excluded groups (see ‘Who will this change affect?’). This is commonly referred to as an ‘opt out’ system.

This means that if you have not confirmed whether you want to be an organ donor – either by recording a decision on the NHS Organ Donor Register, or by speaking to friends or family – it will be considered that you agree to donate your organs when you die.

Organ donation remains an act of great generosity. You still have the right to choose whether or not to be an organ donor. Your family will be consulted about donating your organs when you die.

Most people support organ donation in principle and would be willing to donate their organs after their death. However, many people do not make this decision clear either by signing on to the NHS Organ Donor Register or telling their family. The change in law better reflects what most people want to happen and will help save and improve more lives.

When is the law around organ donation changing?

The ‘opt out’ system will come into effect in England from spring 2020. Until then, if you die in circumstances where you may be able to donate, specialist medical staff will continue to check the NHS Organ Donor Register to see if you have recorded a decision to be a donor. If you have, then your family will be asked to respect this. If you have not registered as a donor, your family will be asked to make a decision on your behalf.

Who will this change affect?

The new law will apply to adults in England, who also die in England. It will not apply to:

·         people under 18

·         people who lack mental capacity to understand the new arrangements and take the necessary action 

·         people who have lived in England for less than 12 months before their death

·         people who are not living here voluntarily

Once the law has changed, it will be considered that you agree to be an organ donor if you are over 18, and:

·         you have not ‘opted out’, or

·         you are not in an excluded group

Your family will still be involved.

What do I have to do?

As the law around organ donation is changing in England from spring 2020, we want everybody to decide whether they want to be an organ donor and to share their decision with their family.

If you do want to be an organ donor, you can register to be a donor on the NHS Organ Donor Register.

If you do not want to be an organ donor, you can opt out by registering a ‘refuse to donate’ decision on the NHS Organ Donor Register.

If you have already registered your decision on the NHS Organ Donor Register and your decision remains the same, you should tell your family what you want.

If you have already registered, but want to change your recorded decision, you can do this simply at any time by completing the ‘amend your details’ form online. 

What is the NHS Organ Donor Register?

The NHS Organ Donor Register is a secure database that holds the details of all those who have registered a decision about organ donation. It records whether or not someone wants to be an organ and tissue donor. For those who want to donate, it records which organs and tissues they want to donate. The Register can only be accessed by specialist NHS staff.

Recording your decision on the NHS Organ Donor Register, and telling your family what you want, are the best ways to help ensure your decision is honoured.

Will my family still be asked about donating my organs after spring 2020?

Yes. The family of a potential donor will always be approached to discuss the option of organ and tissue donation. This helps to make sure that any decision recorded on the NHS Organ Donor Register is your latest known decision. A specialist nurse will work with the family to help ensure this is supported.

Your family can tell us about any particular requests or requirements you may have had to help ensure that organ donation goes ahead in line with your faith or beliefs.

Your family provide important information about your medical, travel, and social history too. This information helps to check that your organs can safely be given to someone else.

Find out more about your choices

There is a lot of helpful information about organ and tissue donation on our website:

organdonation.nhs.uk and on social media @NHSOrganDonor