By CAROLINE WILSON
A BILL to change Scotland's transplant system to a form of deemed consent has attracted the cross-party support of 50 MSPs so far.
Glasgow Labour MSP Anne McTaggart is driving forward the change on the back of the Evening Times' Opt for Life campaign.
The bill is calling for a 'soft' opt-out system, which would mean that unless individuals formally opt out, it will be assumed they consent. However families will still be consulted in the final decision.
The Health and Sport Committee will begin taking evidence this month from major charities, doctors leaders, transplant doctors and patients.
The Transplantation (Authorisation of Removal of Organs etc) (Scotland) Bill must garner the support of at least 65 MSPs for it to be passed. It is likely to be a free vote, meaning politicians can vote according to their beliefs, rather than following party policy.
A total of 40 MSPs have added their names in support of Ms McTaggart's bill and a further 8, so far, have indicated to the Evening Times that they are in favour of the change.
Both the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon and former First Minister Alex Salmond have previously indicated they are in favour of the opt-out transplant system.
John Pentland Labour MSP for Motherwell and Wishaw said opportunities to save lives were being "missed" under the current system.
He said: "Despite a lot of effort over recent years to persuade more people to join the register, there is still a shortage of organs with over 600 people in Scotland waiting for a transplant.
“There must be many occasions when there would have been no objection, but opportunities are missed because someone has simply not registered.
“I suspect some people do not know or have not thought about registering but would be happy to be included. This Bill would make their inclusion the default.
“Anybody who does not want to take part could easily opt out, and there would be other safeguards as well, so I see no reason to oppose a measure that could save hundreds of lives every year.”
John Mason, SNP MSP for Shettleston, said: "Personally speaking I would tend to favour a soft opt out system as proposed.
"It would certainly send out a signal even if the evidence is not conclusive at this stage. As with all bills, the detail will have to be examined but I would say I was more positive than negative."
Richard Simpson, Labour MSP for mid Scotland and Fife, was among the first politicians in Scotland to call for the change, producing a report for the Scottish Government in 2002.
He said: "I regard it as essential to have a register for those who decide they do not want to donate their organs. But a soft opt out continues to respect the wishes of the families.
"It rephrases the question to 'is there any reason that you feel the deceased would NOT have wanted their organs to be donated.'
"This is easier than the family, at a time of maximum grief, being asked to make a decision on behalf of the deceased.
"One of the most cogent arguments in my report was the research which showed a high number of families who regretted their refusal one year on."
Four MSPs - Elizabeth Smith (Cons), Jamie McGrigor (Cons) Graeme Day (SNP) and Mike Mackenzie (SNP) said they were undecided about which way they will vote, if the bill progresses to that stage.
Bob Doris (SNP) said he was "open-minded" about changing transplant legislation.
He said: "I would anticipate that as deputy convener of Holyrood’s Health and Sport Committee, I will have a central role in scrutinising the specific proposals.
"I look forward to the opportunity to that crucial task of looking at the benefits of soft opt out as well as the need for safeguards.
"I have no entrenched view on the matter and I would cast my vote on the issue based on the evidence available. I commend Anne McTaggart for her diligence in pursuing this matter."
Six MSPs indicated they are not in favour of a shift to an opt-out transplant policy. These include Chic Brodie (SNP) who is vice-convenor of the Public Petitions Committee, which heard the Evening Times' petition calling for the change. However Mr Brodie has previously said he is "sympathetic" to the opt-out system and said the government should send out a "very clear message" that there should be a shift if the level of donors failed to meet demand, using other strategies.
Alasdair Allen (SNP) Gil Paterson (SNP) Annabel Goldie (Cons) and Christine Grahame (SNP) said they were not in favour of the change.
Humza Yousaf, SNP MSP for Glasgow and a government minister, was an early supporter of the Evening Times' campaign, raising a motion in parliament. He has not indicated how he will vote. Both Adam Ingram (SNP) and Maureen Watt, Minister for Public Health, have previously supported the motion, put forward by Mr Yousaf.
To register to become an organ donor go to www.organdonationscotland.org/optin
How a bill is passed in parliament
The bill is sent to a parliamentary committee for consideration and the committee writes a report.
The whole parliament votes on whether the bill should proceed.
The bill then undergoes more detailed "line-by-line" scrutiny, either by the appropriate committee, the whole parliament, or a combination of the two. Amendments may be made at this stage
The bill is considered by the whole Parliament.
Amendments can be made at this stage
Up to half of the sections of the bill may be referred back to stage 2 for further consideration.
Parliament then votes on the bill.