Let’s talk about organ donation

It seems that critics were questioning the level of government’s authority after your life

In recent days the Netherlands became the latest country to introduce legislation which researchers say could save thousands of lives every year – a change from opt-in to opt-out for the donation of one’s organs following death.

This is quite a sensitive subject and a big decision for some, while perhaps others may not give it too much thought. But it is quite a decision to take. What is certain, is that it is a live-saving decision. Research shows that one person can save up to eight lives following his or her death, if they were signed up to donate their organs. The opt-out option simply facilitates this, while those who, for one reason or another, do not wish for their organs to be donated can simply remove themselves from the register. In Malta, if a person has not decided before their death, their next-of-kin is asked for a decision. This is a process which can be simplified and a weight lifted off the next-of-kin in what certainly is a difficult moment.

The way it will be introduced in the Netherlands is quite straightforward. You’re sent two letters at home asking you what you would like to do. If you reply saying you’d like to register or don’t reply, you’re added. If you reply saying you don’t, you simply won’t be added to the register. Either way, you can always reverse your decision. For children under the age of 18, it’s the parents who decide.

The law did not get unanimous support in the Dutch parliament. I was curious to understand what the critics’ viewpoint was on this. From what I read it seems that critics were questioning the level of government’s authority after your life. How I see it, as long as you’re allowed to opt-out in a simple and straightforward manner, then what’s the problem for those who simply refuse to donate their organs based on their principle?

Presumed consent is a tricky affair, and in the Netherlands, as in other countries, a whole debate preceded the introduction of this law. I think it’s time for Malta to have this discussion. What is sure, is that it saves lives. Until last year, in Malta, there were 110 people awaiting transplants. Spain, which introduced this law back in 1979, is today a world-leader in organ donations.

It is not all sunshine and rainbows. There have been cases of gross abuse.  In Germany in 2012, a doctor was accused of manslaughter in a major organ donor scandal. However, I feel that the positives outweigh the negatives and at the very least, there is a debate to be had.

Organ donation is a beautiful thing which helps saves lives. Irrespective of what you think about opt-out rules, I do encourage you to have a thought about this and, if you believe it’s the right thing for you, register in the organ donor register. It is the ultimate gesture of altruism. You can help another, or more than one, human being and bring hope.


Evarist Bartolo is minister for employment and education

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