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Life-saving stories as MSPs vote on organ donation opt-out

The Human Tissue (Authorisation) (Scotland) Bill will be debated by full parliament on Tuesday.

Opt-out: The new Bill will be debated by the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday.
Opt-out: The new Bill will be debated by the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday. NHSBT

A bill to introduce a soft "opt-out" system for organ and tissue donation is to face a vote in the Scottish Parliament.

Holyrood's health committee has already expressed its support for The Human Tissue (Authorisation) (Scotland) Bill, which will be debated by the full parliament on Tuesday.

Under current legislation, donors must choose to "opt-in" in order for their organs to be donated, with many people carrying a donor card.

If the bill is voted through by MSPs, the proposed new system would see Scotland move to a system of presuming consent for organ donations.

Supporters of the bill, which was introduced in June last year, believe it will increase the number of potential life-saving donors.

Having heard evidence from members of the public and a range of stakeholders, including witnesses from Wales where a similar "opt out" system was introduced in 2015, the Health and Sport Committee concluded it would give its support to the bill.

Under the proposed rules, anyone over the age of 16 who has lived in Scotland for at least a year and is considered capable of making an informed decision on the subject would be considered to be a consenting donor, unless they have opted out.

'Organ transplants save lives and can make a transformational change to quality of life.'
MSP Monica Lennon

However, the bill also includes provisions to make sure the wishes of families and next of kin continue to be respected, and excludes children and adults who do not have the capacity to understand the rules.

The health committee heard evidence donor numbers had increased since the current law was introduced in 2006, with more than half of Scotland's population registered to donate their organs or tissue after their death - the highest rate in Britain.

However, at any one time in Scotland there are more than 500 people waiting for a transplant, which could save or transform their lives.

Ahead of the vote at Holyrood, Scottish Labour MSP Monica Lennon told STV News: "Scottish Labour has long been supportive of a soft opt-out system for organ donation.

"Organ transplants save lives and can make a transformational change to quality of life.

"Effective implementation will be so important. The Scottish Government must invest in infrastructure, training and education to support an increase in organ donation."

'Knowing our loved ones' wishes in the event of their death and sharing our own is so important. It's a conversation we all need to have.'
James Cant, BHF Scotland director

British Heart Foundation (BHF) Scotland also supports the proposed "opt-out" system.

According to an exclusive online poll commissioned by the charity, seven out of ten people in Scotland are in favour of the new legislation.

James Cant, BHF Scotland director, said: "One of the biggest concerns here in Scotland is there is a gap between the number of people who state that they would wish to donate organs and the number who go on to join the Organ Donation Register.

"We need this to change and that is why we back the introduction of an opt-out system.

"This Bill is an important step in increasing organ donation rates. However, BHF Scotland acknowledges that the passage of this legislation is not the end of the process.

"To achieve a world-class donation system, we will need continued support and investment in infrastructure, training and education.

"It is also absolutely vital that families talk to each other about organ donation.

"Knowing our loved ones' wishes in the event of their death and sharing our own is so important. It's a conversation we all need to have."

Life-saving stories

Steve Donaldson, from Largs in North Ayrshire, had a heart transplant in 2010 after suffering severe heart failure.

He waited nine months on the organ donor transplant list before a suitable donor was found.

He said: "Any time the phone goes, you're like 'is it for me?'.

"It was quite demoralising waiting for the phone call because sometimes you thought 'is it ever going to come?'

"I'm just glad that the person's heart that I've got, they had the conversation with their family to say that they wanted to be an organ donor, and I can't thank them enough.

"It's changed my life so, so, so much. I went from literally being house-bound to being able to do all this cycling and travelling the world, and wow, it's a second life.

"I mean this guy, who I got his heart; he's the biggest hero in the world.

"Don't know who he is - all I can do is thank that family that they said yes. Every day he's through my mind - that I wouldn't be here without these guys."

In July, the 57-year-old will be competing in the British Transplant Games for the sixth time ahead of the World Transplant Games this autumn.

He added: "Taking part in the Transplant Games is something I never dreamed I would be able to do, but life is for living and I'm so looking forward to it.

"It's also allowed me to meet so many wonderful people who have been through similar experiences.

"My message to everyone is please sign the Organ Donation Register and have that conversation with your family about your wishes.

"It really can make all the difference. I fully back the Bill to move to an opt-out system.

"I am living proof of the difference a transplant can make and I urge all of Scotland's MSPs to back it too."

Fiona Carnan was told in 2002 that she had end-stage renal failure due to high blood pressure.

She said: "I had three children at primary school at the time. I was tired and I'd had headaches, but nothing major. I really didn't know that I was ill, but I didn't feel great.

"And almost being told that there was something wrong was - not a relief - but an explanation as to why I had been feeling so unwell.

"I'd never given it a thought. I did have an organ donor card in my purse, but I had never thought for a minute that I would be the one looking for a kidney - that just never crossed my mind."

Mrs Carnan will also be competing at this year's British Transplant Games after receiving a kidney transplant in 2004.

She added: "I was incredibly lucky. I have three brothers, and they and my husband all in the next few months offered to give me a kidney and that was overwhelming.

"That was an amazing feeling, to have that - being enveloped in love I think is the way I would describe that - because that's what it was, it really was something incredibly special."

David Sykes received a transplant in 1993 when he was just 25-years-old after doctors discovered that his kidney function was only working at around 10%.

Despite his health troubles, Mr Sykes kept fit through cycling and playing badminton and squash.

Due to his peak condition, his surgeon told him to enter the World Transplant Games in Manchester in 1995.

Mr Sykes said: "So, I had my transplant in 1993. By '94 I was in my first British Transplant Games, and '95 I was at the Manchester transplant games.

"So it was a very quick transition from being ill, to being back to being well and keeping healthy, and indeed getting back on the bike."

Mr Sykes received his kidney following the death of a woman.

He added: "I do struggle with it to an extent, but I decided that I just had to make sure that I live the best life that I possibly could - with somebody else's kidney in me.

"She may have lost her life, and her parents may have lost her, but somewhere along the line I feel I have done a little bit of good.

"I've been there representing my country, I represent my hospital, I've done TV interviews and radio interviews to try and promote kidney transplant or donation of organs.

"So, I try my best to make sure that it's not wasted."

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