Emily Graves spoke with Dr Peter Saunders from Christian Medical Fellowship about the implications of the bill for Wales and the rest of the UK.

Dr Peter Saunders
Dr Peter Saunders

The Christian Medical Fellowship has said that Welsh plans to introduce a system of presumed consent for organ donation are both unnecessary and unethical. Wales has voted to become the only UK country with an opt-out organ donation system.

Currently an 'opt-in' consent system operates across the UK. Individuals can authorise organ removal from their bodies after death by joining the Organ Donor Register (ODR), or making their wishes known to their family. However the Welsh government is introducing new legislation to authorise doctors to remove organs and tissue from any patient declared dead, unless the deceased had formally registered their objection.

To discuss the implications of this bill for Wales and the rest of the UK, Emily Graves spoke with Dr Peter Saunders from Christian Medical Fellowship.

Emily: Please could you start by outlining what the previous law was and the changes that have now been made in Wales?

Dr Peter Saunders: The current law throughout the whole of the United Kingdom is what we call an opt-in system. If you carry an organ donor card, or if, after your death, your relatives are happy to give permission for your organs to be taken, then that can take place and organs from one person can help up to nine people through transplants. That's the current system: opt-in. What Wales has voted in, is an opt-out system, which means that it would be assumed that you would be an organ donor unless you specifically asked not to be beforehand. It relies on people to take the step to say no, otherwise the organs will be taken and the family can be overruled on that whole process.

Emily: Do you know why this law was looked at in Wales?

Dr Peter Saunders: It's all aimed at increasing the number of organ donors that there are because there are thousands of people on the waiting lists throughout the UK, who want organs. They are always asking questions of how the need can be better met and this was an attempt to improve that. The law doesn't come into force until 2015 so there's some time now to put regulations together under which it will operate.

Emily: Does the bill therefore presume that children's organs will be donated the same as adults?

Dr Peter Saunders: No, it applies only to adults, so you've got to be 18 or over in order to have organs taken under this bill.

Emily: At the Christian Medical Fellowship what is your viewpoint on organ donation?

Dr Peter Saunders: We think in general terms that organ donation is a very good thing and that people should be encouraged to sign up as organ donors, because a transplant of an organ can be absolutely life-changing for a person and as I've said one person can help donate organs to nine different people because of the whole variety of tissues that can be used in organ transplant. I think it's in line with making sacrifices and loving others; it resonates very much with Christian values. But we feel that organ donation should be very much a voluntary thing in the form of a gift and that organs should be given and not taken and not presumed to be available and that the rights and interests of family should really be paramount at the time, because almost every situation where organs are taken it's a case of sudden death, often in an accident and often of a young person. The family are going through incredible psychological and spiritual trauma at the time and the thing needs to be very, very delicately handled. We're not in favour of this kind of hard opt-out system that's been proposed in Wales.

Emily: How is this bill significant for Wales?

Dr Peter Saunders: It makes Wales the first country in the UK to do it. There are some countries abroad that have this system already and that's important because other parts of the UK will be looking at how it works in Wales and asking the question about whether they should be implementing it themselves. In terms of numbers, the advocates say it will give about 15 more donors a year; given that the average is that one person could supply up to nine organs, the average is about three, so we're looking at about 45 people being helped, they argue. But there's a lot of controversy about whether it will actually increase the numbers or whether it would be counterproductive.

Emily: So it will be a little bit of trial and error as they go along?