What is opt in vs opt out organ donation?

Farhin Patel

What is organ donation and why is it important?

We can choose to donate our organs to other people who need them when we die. This is usually life-saving for the person receiving the transplant! We can also donate organs whilst we are alive such as a kidney or parts of our liver or body tissues such as bone marrow or blood. This article is going to focus on some of the new laws surrounding the organ donor register.


What is the ‘Opt-Out’ system?

Whilst there has been an overall improvement in the number of people becoming donors, there is still a significant shortage. In 2020, a total of 359 people died waiting for transplants. The opt-out system was introduced in England on 20th May 2020 to encourage more people to sign up. This means in England; all adults are automatically put on the organ donor register when they die unless they fall into the following excluded group:

  • They have recorded a decision against organ donation for when they die (they’ve opted out)
  • Under 18s
  • People only visiting the country
  • People who have lived in England for less than 12 months before their death
  • People who lack the mental capacity to understand the new law


What organs can be donated?

You can also choose to donate tissues such as corneas, heart valves, skin and bone. 


Who can register to donate and is there a deadline?

Anyone can register their decision to donate their organs when they die regardless of age or medical conditions and these things will be assessed again at the time of death to ensure a safe donation.

There is no deadline to register to opt in or opt out of the organ donor register contrary to a few viral social media posts! 


Do my family and loved ones get a say?

When you die, your family will still be involved in the final decision of organ donation.

Your family will be able to override your decision if they are unsure of what you want and doctors will not go ahead with the organ transplantation if your family are against it. Therefore, it’s really important to discuss your decision with family, whether you choose to donate your organs or not and ensure they support your decision.

You can also nominate up to 2 people to make the decision for you on your behalf in case family members do not agree with your decision. These representatives will be contacted when you die to make the decision on your behalf. 


Does the new system take my faith or beliefs into account?

Your personal beliefs and faith will always be considered before your organ donation goes ahead. The official organ donation website, linked below covers each of the major religions in the UK and has relevant resources to help you make the right decision. 

When you register you will be able to select an option that requires the organ donation team to consult with your family regarding the procedure to ensure it aligns with your faith/beliefs.


What if I change my mind?

You can change your mind anytime! You can amend your decision or withdraw your registration from the records altogether which means no information regarding organ donation for you will exist on the system.  

If you want to learn more about organ donation, click this link