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Labour Party commits to supporting opt-out organ donation in England

During his keynote speech at this week’s Labour Party Conference in Brighton, leader Jeremy Corbyn announced that the party will support the introduction of an opt-out organ donation system in England. Such a move, which is already implemented in Wales and is being implemented in Scotland, is now actively being considered by the Conservative Government for England as well. Humanists UK welcomes this announcement and hopes that Labour Party support will help to drive organ donation to the forefront of the political agenda.

England currently operates an opt-in system, in which prospective organ donors must sign up to an organ register. However, it is often the case that many people who may be happy to donate their organs after death either do not sign up for the register or do not discuss the matter with relatives or friends, and so medical professionals are not aware that they wished to consent. The British Medical Association estimates that although 66% of people state their intent to donate, only 39% actually have signed the register.

In front of an audience of delegates from both local branches and trade unions, Mr Corbyn stated that there are more than 5,000 people currently on waiting lists for organ transplantation in England, but that only 3,500 would receive the lifesaving donation that they need. It is believed that moving to an opt opt-out system would dramatically increase the number of organs available for transplant, saving many more lives. Mr Corbyn also praised the Labour administration in Wales, under the leadership of Carwyn Jones, which introduced an opt-out system in 2015.

Evidence from Wales shows strong support for the new system. Of the 60 organs transplanted in Wales between December 2015 and June 2016, 30 came from donors with presumed consent and only 6% of people have opted out in Wales. Humanists UK played a key role in bringing about this change in Wales, giving oral evidence to the Welsh Assembly Government Committee Inquiry into presumed consent. In June 2017, the Scottish Government announced that it would be moving to a similar system. There are also strong calls for change in Northern Ireland, although a bill to introduce an opt-out system was defeated in the Legislative Assembly in 2016.

In England, Health Minister Jeremy Hunt has announced that the Government is actively considering introducing the change. This follows on from pressure by Labour MP Dan Jarvis, who organised a Westminster Hall debate on the matter in July. Geoffrey Robinson MP also has a private members’ bill on the matter scheduled to have its second reading in February, while The Mirror has been running an active campaign on the matter. The Liberal Democrats, the SNP, Plaid Cymru, and the Green Party also support the policy. 

Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented, ‘We are delighted that the Labour Party has committed to supporting an opt-out organ donation system for England. We understand that the UK Government is actively considering the matter, and hope that Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt now moves rapidly to introduce a move that has already proven hugely successful in Wales.’


For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson on or 0781 55 89 636.

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