On 30 January, Council member Dr Tim Lewens gave evidence to the National Assembly for Wales Health and Social Care Committee on the Human Transplantation (Wales) Bill. This was an opportunity to expand on responses the Council has submitted to previous consultations on this Bill, and to highlight recommendations from the Council’s 2011 report Human bodies: donation for medicine and research.

The Human Transplantation (Wales) Bill prescribes how consent is to be given in Wales for the removal, storage and use of human organs and tissues for the purpose of transplantation. The aim of the Bill is to increase the number of organs and tissues available for transplant. If passed, it will introduce a soft opt-out system for organ and tissue donation, in which a person will be deemed to have consented to be a donor after death unless they have objected during their lifetime, and where the views of relatives on the wishes of the deceased are taken into account.

Responding to questions from the Committee, Tim explained that the Council did not oppose on ethical grounds a soft opt-out system of the type proposed in the Bill, but noted some concerns about the practicalities of implementation and some ambiguity in the evidence of the efficacy of such systems in practice.

He stressed the need to consider carefully how the system for consent is communicated to ensure that people are well informed and understand what their options are. If such a scheme is perceived as the state taking ownership of organs, he said, it may result in a loss of trust in the system. Much would depend on the manner in which relatives were approached about the possibility of donation, for example whether those seeking relatives’ views are themselves being subject to targets which might be seen as leading them to put pressure on relatives.

The current Bill does not cover donation for research. When asked if it should be extended to include this, Tim suggested that an awareness of research should be integrated in the process of donation, for example that the possibility of donating for research should be raised as a matter of routine when relatives were approached.

Read the Council’s written evidence on the Bill

Find out more about the report Human bodies: donation for medicine and research