To tackle an ever-growing transplant waiting list, Colombia’s senate has passed a bill to make all citizens by default agree to organ donation unless they explicitly opt out.
The Senate met on Wednesday to vote on a series of changes to the law regarding organ donation. The proposals will become law once they gain the signature of the President, Juan Manuel Santos.
The bill proposes that all citizens will be organ donors unless they explicitly request otherwise prior to their death. Importantly, family members will not be able to veto the donation after the death of their loved one, which is something that has frustrated doctors in the past.
In addition, the bill will restrict the donation of organs to foreigners who are not residents of Colombia and will increase the penalty for organ trafficking to a sentence of 3 to 6 years.
For the author of the initiative, Senator Rodrigo Lara (Radical Change), “this is a project that will save lives and also allow many people to have a dignified quality of life. It seeks to widen the legal presumption of donation from people who died and have not declared during their lives that their organs should not be donated.”
“As a friend of mine who is a priest says, a person has a life to object and understand that his family members will not do it for him once they die,” added Lara.
The senator emphasized the pressing need to source more organs for donation.
“Every day the demand for organs increases but the supply remains stable. What we want is that the country should adapt to that need and anticipate the demands of the future so that people do not die. We want to improve the situation of those who are desperately holding on to life, trying to find an organ.”
Senator Rodrigo Lara
According to the Fundacion Nacional de Transplantados, there are currently more than 2000 people on the transplant wait list in Colombia. There are 22 people on the waiting list for every donor. Recent statistics show as few as 2% of them can expect to receive an effective transplant. These numbers make grim reading, but Lara hopes the new law will improve them.
Opt-out donation schemes have proved successful elsewhere. Two otherwise similar countries, Germany and Austria, use an opt-in and an opt-out system respectively. The donation consent rate in Germany is 12%, whereas in Austria it is 99.98%.
However, higher consent rates do not always translate directly into high effective rates of donation. There will be additional cultural and infrastructural hurdles to overcome.
Colombia’s effective donation rate of 7 per million people is not exceptional among Latin American countries, but it is significantly lower than many European countries and states in the US. Should Santos put pen to paper and make this motion law, it could be a first step to a great improvement in Colombia’s public health services.