A newly approved law in the Netherlands will automatically register all adults as organ donors within the next year. Dutch citizens who are uncomfortable with donating their organs will have the ability to opt out of the system.
Lawmakers say that when a person turns 18, they will be expected to sign up as an organ donor. If they don’t register, they will receive a letter in the mail asking them if they would like to donate their organs.
This measure has been making its way through the Dutch government since 2016, when it passed the lower house of Parliament by a slim 75-74 margin. Last year, the Dutch Senate then approved the law in another close vote of 38-36. After final approval from King Willem-Alexander, the law is scheduled to go into effect next year.
According to Pia Dijkstra, a member of the House of Representatives who drafted the bill, the new law will help with the organ shortages faced in the country. Dijkstra also said that it was important for people to have the ability to opt out, so no one will be forced into organ donation.
“They will be able to reply: yes, no, my next of kin will decide or a specific person will decide,” Djikstra said, according to CNN.
Jeantine Reiger, communications manager for the Dutch Transplant Foundation, says that there are over a thousand people in the country waiting for viable organ donations, and that list is growing by the day. Reiger says that in the current opt-in system, organ donation is often something that is overlooked and slips through the cracks.
“When no registration about the donatee is available, the bereaved have to decide on donation of the organs. That is very difficult for them. They are emotionally shaken by the sudden death of their family member,” Reiger says.
The new law is controversial among citizens of the Netherlands, many of whom have already made a point to opt out of the system.
Automatic organ donor policies are not entirely unprecedented, as similar laws already exist in areas like Belgium and Spain. However, experts say that the Netherlands has the most strict guidelines of them all.
Anne Paschke, public relations manager for the United States nonprofit United Network for Organ Sharing pointed out that Spain and Belgium, “Have a soft opt-out system where they will not recover (organs) if the family objects. So even though it’s opt-out, it’s not like a hard opt-out, where they would recover anyway.”
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, there are currently 114,989 people waiting for organ transplants in the United States.
“The good news is that we had a record number of deceased donors and transplants last year. About 95 people a day got a transplant. But that’s not enough. About 20 people die waiting for an organ that doesn’t come in time. Polling shows that more than 90% of people in the United States are in favor of organ donation. A little over 50% are actually signed up in the donor registry,” Paschke explained.
Paschke doesn’t expect the organ donation laws in the US to change anytime soon.
“Laws would have to change in every state, and the people that it would appeal to are people who are already donation supporters. But there are people who aren’t ready to make a decision, and if you force them to make a decision, it could have some unintended consequences,” Paschke said.
IMAGE CREDIT: Alexander Korzh