Opt-out policy and the organ shortage problem: critical insights and practical considerations

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The legal shift to an opt-out system of consent for deceased organ donation is now official in England, Wales and Scotland. While it is commendable that national governments across the United Kingdom have publicly signalled their serious engagement with organ donation, it remains questionable that opt-out policy can in and of itself solve the public health issue of organ shortage. Opt-out policy risks becoming a futile solution if it fails to attend to key factors in clinical practice. Thus, this article provides critical insights and practical considerations in order to work towards increasing the availability of organs for transplantation: 1) organ donation specialists on their own are not enough, a collaborative hospital culture of donation is also needed; 2) investment in innovative perfusion technologies is fundamental to increase both the quantity and quality of organs utilised for transplants; and 3) opt-out does not solve the enduring problem of consent or authorization for donation, rather than hoping that opt-out will shift the societal culture of donation and make donation the default choice, it is necessary to acknowledge that families' authorization remains essential and their emotional experience can neither be minimized nor excluded altogether. Importantly, consent rates are not the only factor to account for overall deceased donation rates. The organ shortage cannot be solely attributed to a matter of negative public attitudes reversible by law. Doing that does a disservice to the public and diverts strategic attention and resources from fostering the organizational and technological enablers of organ donation in clinical practice.
Original languageEnglish
Article number100589
Issue number1
Early online date22 Nov 2020
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2021


  • Deceased organ donation
  • Health Policy
  • Healthcare organization.
  • Opt-out system of consent
  • Organ shortage


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