In Switzerland, those who did not explicitly “opt in” during their lifetime would now be assumed to have consented to having their organs removed for a transplant when they die, following a referendum on Sunday.
The government-backed measure was backed by around 60% of Swiss people, with a turnout of just over 40% of all eligible voters. The new rules will not come into effect immediately, as the government has yet to notify all citizens of the change and create a national database to opt out.
The new rules will only apply to people aged 16 and over, and organs will only be removed from patients who died in the intensive care unit and were confirmed dead by two doctors, according to AFP .
The government expects the measure to increase the number of organ donations, after 72 people died in 2021 while waiting for a transplant. According to Swisstransplant, there are 1434 patients on the waiting list for donor organs in Switzerland, while a total of 484 received their transplant in 2021.
The group of activists, led by retired doctor Alex Frei, who pushed the settlement to a public vote, questioned the ethics of simply assuming a person’s consent to a medical procedure.
The result of the referendum “confirmed the positive attitude that [authorities] still felt by the Swiss population in terms of organ donation”, Interior Minister Alain Berset said on Sunday.
However, Frei claimed that the result was skewed by people misinformed about the organ donation procedure and thinking about “cold bodies” in freezers rather than brain-dead patients still on life support in intensive care, according to Swissinfo.
Family members of the deceased will still have a say under the new rules, although critics say it would put additional pressure on relatives who may feel pressured not to object. Proponents, on the contrary, believe that pressing a grieving family to make decisions on behalf of their loved one is far more stressful. The government argued it was a better alternative to a competing proposal that did not include a requirement to consult the family.
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