Politicians in the north-east have praised new rules which mean Scotland will move to an opt-out system for organ donation.
Legislation was given royal assent in July, which means a new opt-out system for organs and tissue of deceased donors is due to come into force next autumn.
The ruling is designed to increase the number of people who donate organs for those on the transplant waiting list.
Currently a person has to opt in as a donor while they are alive to be on the register.
Organs are only used with their consent, or with that of their family, after they die. The system is already in force in Wales.
However, the changes will not affect those under 16, people who lack capacity to understand the new arrangements – such as those with dementia – and people who have lived in Scotland for less than 12 months before their death.
John Forsythe, medical director for organ donation at NHS Blood and Transplant, said: “For those who have not thought about organ donation before, it is important to know there is time to consider your options. We encourage people to make a decision and ensure they tell their family, as even after the laws change, families will continue to be approached before organ donation goes ahead.”
Organs can only be used for transplant if the patient dies in hospital and have to be transplanted shortly after death.
The legislation means if a person has not confirmed whether they want to be a donor, it will be assumed they are willing to donate organs and tissue to someone when they die, if possible.
North-east Liberal Democrat MSP Mike Rumbles had an amendment passed in the legislation with regards to consent.
He said: “The Human Tissue Bill that passed through Scottish Parliament this year could save lives and has rightly had support from the start.
“I raised concerns with the first draft of the Bill, however, because of the threshold of evidence that loved ones would have to provide to ‘prove’ the wishes of the deceased.
“I have been on the organ donor register myself for over 20 years and the aim, of course, is to increase organ donation rates across Scotland.
“I was on the health committee when we passed the law in 2006 and I said then 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% of the population on the organ donor register and today it is over 50%.
“So it may surprise people to learn I was the only MSP to vote against the first draft of the Bill.
“The original wording allowed medical staff, under the new opt-out system, to overrule the wishes of the deceased if family and friends could not provide ‘evidence that would convince a reasonable person’ within hours of learning the terrible news their loved one has died, raising the burden of proof significantly of the wishes of the deceased.
“I was astonished the Scottish Government and other MSPs did not pick up on this straight away. But I was delighted that, after meeting the minister, he brought forward the amendments I requested.
“That changed the wording, by removing the words ‘would convince a reasonable person’ which means family and friends will only need to inform medical staff of the deceased wishes for them to be carried out.
“In normal circumstances, it would be sensible to produce some form of written evidence to convince the reasonable person, but in this case, family and friends may only have verbal knowledge that their loved one didn’t want their organs to be used for transplantation.
“Expecting a bereaved family to provide that level of evidence would have been a dangerous change to the law because there was a danger people would have organs removed on death they had no intention of donating.
“That is why, when the amended Bill came back for a final vote in the chamber, I was more than happy to vote for it.”
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North-east Labour MSP Lewis Macdonald also made an amendment to the bill which was accepted.
He said: “I have a particular interest in this because I was the health minister who put through the 2006 act.
“I followed this one closely all the way through. In 2006, we were not persuaded of the opt-out requirement because we thought it was better trying to encourage people to opt in. The 2006 act did make a difference – until a year or two ago, Scotland had the highest rate of organ donation in the UK.
“Wales moved to an opt-out system and have now overtaken Scotland in terms of organ donation rates.
“The new act will hopefully increase donation rates. It’s a positve step to increase the number of people willing to donate.
“Most people signed up to the register will never have their organs donated.
“The thing I was most concerned to include was a public awareness campaign. I thought it was very important to make people aware of the changes.”
Andrew Bowie, Scottish Conservative MP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, said: “It is a major step forward to help thousands of people awaiting life-saving transplants.
“It is important, however, to allow everyone to discuss their choices and register their wishes, whatever their preference may be.”
Scotland’s Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick said: “Organ and tissue donation can be a life-changing gift.
“Evidence shows that opt-out systems can make a difference as part of a wider package of measures and this Act provides further opportunities to both save and improve lives.”
Those who do not want to be a donor can opt out by registering their decision on the NHS Donor Register.
Special donor documentary
NHS Grampian has commissioned a documentary to highlight the impact organ donation can have on the lives of transplant recipients and donor families.
The film, which will be shown to a specially invited audience today at the Belmont Filmhouse, will be part of a permanent art installation at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, in memory of those who became donors.
Filmmaker Tucker Tangeman has interviewed both donor families and those who have had their lives changed by a transplant, as well as the clinicians who support them.
Rhona Atkinson, acting chairwoman of NHS Grampian and chairwoman of the organ donation committee, said: “This film is the exciting culmination of a project our committee has been working on. A space in the hospital has long been held for an installation. We considered a range of projects until we hit on the idea of a film. The personal testimony of those who have received a transplant and those who make the very difficult decision to allow organ donation is incredibly powerful.”