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Organ Donation: New Year, New Rules

This is a summary of the changes which are set to come into force in 2020 in relation to organ donation.

As of early spring 2020 the rules relating to organ donation are changing.

The current system enables organ donation to be permitted where an individual actively registers to do so.

Various campaigners over the years have argued the current system is not adequate or suitable.

The main reason people have campaigned for some time to change the law regarding organ donations is due to the real need for it. Some have argued the system, as was, did not actually reflect people’s wishes or intentions. It is suggested, in reality, some people had just not got round to ensuring they registered to donate, or in fact had not given it proper thought.

  1. Some 408 people died whilst on the waiting list for organ donations last year alone
  2. On average 3 people die each day across the UK in need of an organ donation
  3. At the time of writing this there are 6,180 people waiting for an organ donation transplant in England
  4. Although 80% of people state they are happy to be donors, only 37% are registered to be donors

Statistics mentioned in (i) – (iv) obtained from the Government website and the NHS Organ Donation website

Why now? Following a tragic accident in which a young girl called Keira Ball sadly passed away, Keira’s very brave family decided organ donation was what Keira would have wanted. This act of kindness helped 5 people, one in particular was a child called Max Johnson. Due to this act of kindness and the difference it made to Max Johnson’s life, both he and his family campaigned to have the current system changed. This directly led the government to review and change the current system.

In 2018 the government announced that the law around organ donation would be changing and such change would be commonly referred to as Max’s Law, in recognition of all the campaigning Max and his family have done. Max Johnson further announced he wanted Keira’s name to be added. The Bill received Royal Assent on 15 March 2019 and Max and Keira’s Law will be enacted in England in the spring of 2020.

The law was passed in 2019 following a period of campaigning. The implementation of such changes has purposely been delayed until 2020 in order to permit enough time for this to be made public, publicised and brought to the forefront of people’s thoughts.

New “opt out” system

Therefore, once the new system is implemented, any person who lives in England and is over 18 will be considered as an organ donor unless they “opt out”. Although rest assured, you can also still actively “opt in”.

This means that if an individual does not want to be a potential organ donor after they pass away, for any reason at all, they will need to register on the new NHS Donation Register to ensure they have opted out.

The government have stated this will only apply to routine transplants, as stipulated on the government website. However the exact list of organs which are to be included and or excluded is yet to be published.

In addition to this it is recommended, whatever your view or choice may be, you discuss it with your nearest and dearest, so they know what your preference is should the time arise.

Medical staff will in the future check the register to see if the deceased registered a preference. It has been stated, all families will always be consulted before any donation has taken place.

If the family of the deceased has any reason to believe the deceased did not wish to be a donor and they can show the reasons for such a belief, the donation will not go ahead.


As with most rules there are exceptions and this new “opt out” system is no different.

The exceptions are as follows, per the government website:

“Everyone in England over the age of 18 will be considered to be in favour of donating their organs and tissues after death unless:

  • they have said they don’t want to donate their organs (they have “opted out”)
  • they have appointed a representative to decide for them after their death
  • they are in one of the excluded groups – under the age of 18, ordinarily resident in England for less than 12 months before their death, or lack mental capacity for a significant period before their death” (1)

Please note anyone at any age can register to be a donor. If they are under 18, the parents would be required to consent on behalf of the deceased.


Whatever your political/religious/habitual/moral or simply your preference is, following the pending changes to the donor system, it is vital for one to be proactive about making a choice to ensure the outcome you would hope for is listened to.

Therefore, it is perhaps sensible to ensure you do the following:

  • you register your preference, whether to be a potential donor or not (this can be amended at any time). You can do this on the NHS Donor Register ­
  • you also state such a preference in your will to avoid any doubt
  • you ensure to discuss your preference with your family/partner/spouse/close friends to ensure they know what you wish when the event should arise.

If you are considering creating or amending a will, or if you require any further information about any of the services we offer, please do not hesitate to contact us and we will be delighted to help.


  1. [accessed 07/01/2020]

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