updated 11/17/2008 2:07:20 PM ET 2008-11-17T19:07:20

Britain should not change its organ-donation law to automatically designate every person a donor unless they or their survivors opt out, an expert panel recommended Monday.

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Under current law, every person is automatically designated to not be a donor unless they register as one or their family decides to donate their organs after death.

Britain has one of the lowest organ donation rates in Europe and Prime Minister Gordon Brown said his government might change the law despite the recommendation of the Organ Donation Taskforce, a panel of more than 20 medical professionals, lawyers and public health and government officials.

The Department of Health intends to launch a 4.5 million pound ($6.7 million) awareness campaign next spring. They also intend to recruit new transplant coordinators, establish a national network of organ-retrieval teams and appoint donor “champions,” who would discuss donation with families facing the decision.

The government hopes to double the number of people signed up as potential donors.

“I’m not ruling out a further change in the law,” Brown said. “We will revisit this.”

Task force chairwoman Elisabeth Buggins told the BBC there was worry among doctors that families might feel pressured by being required to opt out if they don’t want to give away their loved one’s organs.

“People who have received an organ said that the concept of a gift — of that organ being freely given by the family, by the donor — is very important to them,” she said.

In Britain in 2007, there were 13.2 organ donations per million of the population, compared with 34.3 per million in Spain, according to the task force’s report. The United States does not calculate donations in the same way.

Dr. Rafael Matesanz, the president of the Spanish National Transplant Organization, who was consulted by the task force, said doctors always consult with families of deceased in seeking organs for donation.

Conflict over presumed consent
Dr. Paul Murphy, an intensive-care physician in the northern city of Leeds and a member of the task force, said there was concern the British public would reject the concept of presumed consent.

“They find it dehumanizing, and they find it in conflict with choice, responsiveness and patient autonomy,” he said.

There are currently 8,000 people waiting for organ transplants in the United Kingdom, according to the task force. In the past year, about 3,000 received transplants but another 1,000 on the waiting list died.

In the United States in 2007, 6,674 people died while waiting for an organ, said Anne Paschke, spokeswoman for the United Network for Organ Sharing.

Presumed consent has not been seriously considered in the United States; however, many states have introduced online registries where people can state their wishes. In some cases, family consent is then not required.

More on organ donation   |  presumed consent

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