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Wales to seek organ donation opt-out powers; New presumed consent idea to be put forward.

Byline: Madeleine Brindley

WALES will seek the powers to change the law on organ donation and increase the number of donors.

Health Minister Edwina Hart yesterday said Wales would pursue a legislative competence order to introduce presumed consent.

The move to a "soft" opt-out system would mean that everyone would be assumed to be an organ donor, unless they had opted out by signing a register, during their lifetime.

But relatives and loved ones would still be asked about organ donation and their views would be taken into consideration.

If it increases the number of organs available for transplant, it could end the tragedy of people dying while waiting for a donor.

Mrs Hart said in a written statement: "Cabinet colleagues have agreed with my proposal to explore the possibility of introducing a soft opt-out system for organ donation in Wales and that a bid for a Legislative Competence Order be submitted as part of the annual trawl for legislative items. This will take time to achieve so we must continue to do all we can to raise awareness of this issue and encourage people to sign up to the organ donation register."

The present organ donation system relies on people joining the organ donor register and relatives agreeing to donation at the time of death.

Even though the majority of people in South Wales support organ donation, just over a quarter have joined the organ donor register.

Some 500 people in Wales are currently waiting for an organ transplant. In the past five years more than 150 people have died while on the list.

Other countries, including Spain and Belgium, have seen organ donation rates increase after they introduced an opt-out system.

Martyn Hutchings, 53, works for Cardiff council and has been waiting for a kidney transplant for 20 months.

He said: "This decision gives hope to people like me who are waiting for a kidney. Moving to a soft opt-out organ donation system will mean that more organs are available. A new kidney will transform my life. The announcement gives me fresh hope for a return to a life without waiting."

Mrs Hart's decision to seek the powers to change the law follows an extensive public consultation about the options for increasing organ donation in Wales, including a series of public debates.

Mrs Hart, who is personally in favour of opt-out, said: "Following these debates, there was a clear public preference for either an opt-out system or a mandated choice system above sticking with the current one. There was also a preference for a soft rather than a hard opt-out system."

Roy J Thomas, chairman of Kidney Wales Foundation, said: "Someone dies every 11 days waiting for a transplant in Wales.

"We know the overwhelming majority of people in Wales would like their organs to be donated after death but only 28% of people are on the NHS organ donor register. Cruelly, this means even more people are dying and waiting. This decision by the minister will break new ground in the UK."

Dr Richard Lewis, Welsh secretary of the British Medical Association, said: "I hope that this brave decision by the health minister will mark a small step towards ending the tragedy of patients dying while waiting for a transplant.

"Organ transplantation saves lives and it can transform the lives of people suffering disability and the tremendous burden of dialysis."

IT'S LIKE I'VE GOT A NEW LIFE, SAYS TEENAGER HOLLIE LIFE on dialysis was more like existing than living for Hollie Bailey.

The 18-year-old, who is studying beauty therapy at Ystrad Mynach College, had a kidney transplant three years ago.

She was one of the lucky ones - within six weeks of joining the transplant list a new kidney became available. Hollie, who was diagnosed with kidney failure when she was 14, said: "While I was waiting I was sleeping all the time - I was really tired and I was only eating small portions. I couldn't do anything at all. It was hard to even walk up the stairs." Dad Rob, a football coach, said: "She was at such an important point in her life and her quality of life was awful because dialysis is just an existence.

"She was put on the waiting list and we were told not to expect much because it takes so long for organs to become available.

"But within six weeks we got the phone call at 4am asking us whether we could go to Bristol Royal Infirmary straight away."

Hollie's kidney came from a woman who had died.

She said: "The transplant has made lots of difference - I'm in college and doing normal things. I'm more active and I'm eating much more than I used to.

It's like I've got a new life." The Bailey family, who live in Caerphilly, all support a change to a soft opt-out system and believe it will also boost the number of organs for transplant. But Mr Bailey said it would also help grieving families make a decision about organ donation. Hollie's brother Sam, 20, died in September in a car accident.

"This is a big step forward in helping grieving families and those who are waiting for a transplant," he added.

CAPTION(S):

Hollie Bailey, centre, with brother Harry, four, and seven-year-old sister Ella. Hollie's life has been transformed after she benefited from a kidney donation
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Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Dec 19, 2009
Words:892
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