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Dangerous’ new organ law could reduce number of donations, writes Mike Rumbles MSP

Last week members of the Scottish Parliament approved by 107 votes to one the general principles of the Human Tissues (Scotland) Bill dealing with ‘presumed’ consent for organ donation. The bill was opposed by the Catholic Church, with the Church’s parliamentary officer Anthony Horan arguing that it was not ‘morally acceptable’ for organs to be taken without consent. Here the only MSP to vote against the bill explains his opposition

Last week, I was the one MSP who voted against the Human Tissues (Scotland) Bill, and while there were two MSPs who abstained and 18 absent from the chamber, every other MSP allowed the bill to proceed.

This means the new bill now goes to the health committee where amendments can be lodged to try to change any part of the bill before it returns to the full Parliament for final approval.

The commendable aim of this bill is to increase the number of organ donations in Scotland.

However, the Scottish government has decided that the way to do this is to assume that people are in favour of donation unless they have registered their objections in writing beforehand.

This is what is called ‘deemed’ or ‘assumed’ consent. The danger with this approach is that an individual’s organs will be taken even if the family of the deceased have knowledge that their loved one did not want this to happen.

I have been on the organ donor register for the last 20 years. I was on the health committee when we passed the current law in 2006 and I said then that it was one of the best laws the Scottish Parliament would ever pass.

It has been a great success because in 2006 we had just 25 per cent of the population on the organ donor register and today it is over 50 per cent.

In 2006, MSPs agreed that our system of organ donation was founded on honouring people’s wishes—it meant that the person’s own wishes were paramount.

This new law going through the Scottish Parliament changes all of this.

The Scottish Government doesn’t agree saying that this new bill doesn’t change the fact that the right to authorisation for donation continues to rest with the potential donor.

However, what they are doing is changing what it says in the 2006 Act when the views of the potential donor are unknown.

The law as it currently stands says that if the family of the deceased know that the adult was unwilling for any part of their body to be used for transplantation, their wishes would be respected. This new law ‘raises the bar’ of proof.

The family will now have to provide ‘evidence that would convince’ about the wishes of the deceased.

What kind of evidence ‘that would convince’ could possibly be provided by the family after their loved one has died other than knowledge of their wishes?

Expecting a bereaved family to provide this level of evidence is a nonsense and it is a dangerous change in the law because there is a real danger that people will have their organs removed on death when they had no intention of donating.

Can you imagine what will happen to organ donation rates after the first time this happens under this new law?

I am worried that because of this change this new law will be counter-productive and I have lodged amendments to the bill to ensure that the safeguard we currently have about the knowledge the family may have about the wishes of the deceased are respected.

— Mike Rumbles is the Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP for the North East of Scotland

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