Any change to legislation on organ donation and transplants would have to be supported by a major public education campaign to boost donor numbers according to the Law Society of Scotland.
In its response to the Scottish government consultation on increasing organ and tissue donation and transplantation, the Law Society has said that there are “patterns of evidence” which suggest that some countries have higher donation rates than others, but while opt-out systems have improved transplant figures in some countries, the same result may not occur elsewhere because of cultural differences and perceptions.
The society believes that increased awareness and education has an important role in increasing people’s willingness to donate organs.
Alison Britton, convener of the Law Society of Scotland’s Health and Medical Law Committee, said: “The merits of an opt-out over an opt-in system to increase organ and tissue donation are not clear however, regardless of the system adopted, increasing public support for either system is essential to improving donation rates.
“We can look to Spain, which is regarded as having a highly successful model for increasing organ donation. While it operates a system of presumed consent, the legislation is supported by other measures including a multi-level transplant coordinator network and highly visible public education campaigns.
“Any plan to change existing legislation would have to be accompanied by a large scale education programme on the benefits of organ donation.”
The Law Society believes that family members have an important role to play in decision-making on organ donation.
Britton, who is professor of healthcare and medical law at Glasgow Caledonian University, said: “In Scotland there is no legislative requirement to consult with the family, however next of kin are normally consulted and they have a potential to veto any decision made by the donor.
“An international study has shown that where next of kin involvement was sought, their views have a larger and more immediate effect than legislative changes – regardless of the type of organ donation model that had been adopted and whether the views of the potential donor had been expressed or not. It would appear then, that while the views of a potential donor are given priority, family members tend to have the final say on whether donation goes ahead or not.”
The society has also highlighted the issue of decision-making around organ donation, particularly for young people.
Professor Britton said: “It’s vital that for anyone considering organ donation after their death, sufficient information is available and, importantly, they have full understanding before making their decision.”
To read the Law Society’s response in full see the website: Organ and Tissue Donation.