Germany debates opt-out system for organ donations

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By Alice Tidey
Jens Spahn visits a hospital in Hamburg, Germany on August 24, 2018
Jens Spahn visits a hospital in Hamburg, Germany on August 24, 2018   -  Copyright  Christian Charisius/Pool via Reuters

Germany's Health Minister Jens Spahn is pushing for the country to adopt an opt-out policy for organ donations as the number of donors sink to its lowel-ever level.

In an interview with Germany's Bild newspaper on Sunday, Spahn declared himself in favour of an opt-out scheme for organ donation which would make organ harvesting and transplanting automatic unless people register their wish not to donate.

"We should have this discussion in the Bundestag now," Spahn told the tabloid. "That's where this topics belongs."

The health minister made his announcement after introducing a draft bill to reform the system, warning that one patient on the organ waiting-list dies every eight hours.

10,000 currently waiting

According to the German Organ Transplantation Foundation, there were only 797 donors in Germany last year — the lowest ever.

It also highlighted that while 2,594 organs had been donated throughout Germany in 2017, there were still 10,000 patients on the waiting-list.

"10,000 people are waiting for help and an organ. How can we substantially increase the number of donors and thus save lives? For this we need a broad debate in Parliament, in our society and in our families."

The Foundation welcomed the draft bill in a statement released on Monday and praised Spahn for sending "a clear signal to promote a culture of organ donation in Germany."

The bill includes measures to boost financing for transplant hospitals, boslter specialist units regionally and streamline the process.

Some though have criticised the proposal, including Peter Dabrock, chairman of Germany's Ethics Council.

Dabrock told the German EPD news agency that with an opt-out system, it wouldn't be possible to talk of "donation" anymore but of "compulsory organ contribution."

Organ donation across Europe

Should Germany vote in favour of an opt-out scheme, it will be the latest country across Europe to do so.

Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Spain, the Netherlands, Russia, and Turkey all have an opt-out system although in some of them relatives can decide against donating even if their deceased loved one is not on the opt-out registry.

The UK is also currently legislating on the question with parliamentarians approving the first reading of the bill in February.

Six new patients are added to waiting lists every hour in Europe, according to the Council of Europe.

According to Statista, Spain has the highest donor rate in Europe with more than 43 donors per million of population in 2016. Germany was the sixth worst country in the EU with 10.6 donors per million inhabitants.