Government backs opt-out organ donation in England

4 October, 2017

Prime Minister Theresa May has announced that the UK Government will reform organ donation rules in England in favour of an opt-out system during her leader’s speech at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester. Such a system is already in use in Wales and to be introduced shortly in Scotland. Humanists UK, which has long worked for such a change, welcomes this announcement.

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.

Theresa May stated that the ability of the organ donation service to help people was limited by the number of organ donors that come forward, resulting in 500 deaths last year. 6,500 people are currently awaiting a transplant.

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.

This announcement about the introduction of an opt-out system in England followed comments made by Health Minister Jeremy Hunt that the Government was actively considering introducing the change. This followed 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. Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the SNP, Plaid Cymru, and the Green Party also support the policy, with Jeremy Corbyn announcing Labour’s support in his keynote conference speech last week.

Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented, ‘We are thrilled that the Government has committed to the introduction of an opt-out system, which has already been shown to be hugely successful in Wales. There is now broad cross-party support for legislation, which we are hopeful will now be implemented very soon.’


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

You can join the Organ Donor Register and help save lives after your death at

Read more about our campaigns work on organ donation:

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

Humanists UK recently changed its name from the British Humanist Association: