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Law and change: Scottish legal heroes
Law and change: Scottish legal heroes

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4 Reflecting changes in society

Law can be used as a mechanism for change in society, for example, in charging for carrier bags to reduce plastic waste and pollution. However, changes in society can influence changes in the law, for example, the right to vote, equality and regulation of medical practitioners.

Laws exist to help protect our rights and shape how we live and work. Law, policies or procedures often change when there is believed to be a fairer or better way of doing things.

(Scottish Parliament exhibition, 2017)

One change that has recently been explored is in an area that is highly emotive, that of organ donation. Organ donation can save a life at a time when another life has been lost. In June 2014 Anne McTaggart, a Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP), issued a consultation document on a Proposed Organ and Tissue Donation (Scotland) Bill, ‘A proposal for a Bill to amend the law on human transplantation, including by authorising (in certain circumstances) the posthumous removal of organs and tissue from an adult who had not given express consent’.

She gave her reasons for issuing a consultation as:

The existing opt-in system of organ donation in Scotland has been the subject of debate for a number of years. The United Kingdom has one of the lowest organ donation rates in Europe. In view of the significant difference between the number of people on the waiting list for transplant operations and the number of organs available, I believe that reform is essential.

(McTaggart, 2014)

This consultation was issued at a time when the law was changing in another devolved nation, Wales. On 1 December 2015 the law in Wales changed. A soft ‘opt-out’ system for consent to organ donation was introduced through legislation from the Welsh Assembly. People living in Wales have the following choices:

  • If they want to be a donor, they can either register to be a donor (opt-in) on the NHS Organ Donor Register or do nothing.
  • If they do nothing, they are regarded as having no objection to donating their organs. This is called deemed consent.
  • If they do not want to be a donor, they can register not to be a donor (opt-out) on the NHS Organ Donor Register.

They can appoint a representative to make the decision for you after their death.

Organ donation register Scotland
Figure 6 Organ donation register Scotland

Anne McTaggart’s Bill was eventually defeated but she had raised awareness of the need for some form of change. In December 2016 the Scottish Government issued a consultation. That consultation closed in March 2017. An extract of the consultation is in the box below.

Box 2 Feedback updated 3 Jul 2017

We Asked

For views on ways to increase numbers of successful organ and tissue donations, including proposals to introduce a soft opt out system of organ and tissue donation.

You Said

The responses to the consultation suggest that there is significant support for organ and tissue donation in Scotland, including the introduction of further measures which aim to increase donation. The responses show significant support for the introduction of a soft opt out system, and the system as set out in the consultation.

We Did

We intend to introduce legislation for a soft opt out system of organ and tissue donation as well as taking forward other measures to increase organ and tissue donation.

Results Updated 3 Jul 2017

The Scottish Government undertook a consultation inviting views on ways of increasing the numbers of organ and tissue donations.  The consultation paper outlined options including the introduction of a soft opt out / deemed authorisation system. It also suggested ways of increasing referrals by clinical teams to specialist transplant teams when they are caring for a dying or recently deceased patient. The findings presented summarise the views of those who participated in the consultation.



Published Responses

View submitted responses where consent has been given to publish the response.

(Scottish Government, 2017)

A Bill will be prepared and put before the Scottish Parliament. If you are interested in reading the consultation papers and documents please use the links in the box above.

You should now watch Sir David Edward as he reflects on a significant legal change. This provides a further example of the law responding to changes within society, changes in values and attitudes and which demonstrates the UK’s ongoing commitment to its obligations under the ECHR (in this particular instance Article 1).

Download this video clip.Video player: Sir David Edward: legal change
Sir David Edward: legal change
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