The Dutch organ donor law – and why the EU should take note

Last Tuesday, the Dutch Senate approved one of the most controversial laws in Dutch history: the organ donor law. This law prescribes that as of 1 July 2020, every Dutch citizen over 18 years of age will automatically become an organ donor. In light of the high demand for organs and the low number of people who registered to donate their organs after their passing, Pia Dijkstra of the Progressive Liberals (D66) initiated the proposal in the Dutch Parliament already in 2012. Now, six years later, the law is approved by the Senate, with a small majority of 38 senators in favor and 36 against.

Cost-benefit analysis

Records show that on a yearly basis, an average of 140 people die in the Netherlands each year as a result of organ failures since there are not enough people who put their organs up for donation after their passing. Reasons for this vary: some simply forget the option exists, others find it hard to make the decision themselves whether or not to become a donor, and some do not register because of a myriad of personal reasons. A lot of lives can be saved now that the Dutch government decided that everyone over the age of 18 becomes an organ donor. After all, what functions do organs have after one has passed away? In addition to the prescription that every person becomes an organ donor, the law also indicates that everyone has the ability to deregister to become a donor. Those who really oppose it can thus easily indicate they do not want their organs to be donated after their passing. Moreover, the law includes a clause in which the surviving relatives have the option to halt the process of organ donation if there are sufficient indications that the deceased in the end did not want to become a donor.

EU organ donor directive

The number of people that die due to organ failures in the whole of the EU is many times higher than those that pass away only in the Netherlands (in 2013, a total of 4,100 people died in the EU as a result of organ failures). The EU should therefore enact a similar law as the organ donor law in the Netherlands. After all, it is clear that the benefits of the Dutch organ donor law outweigh the costs: a great number of lives can be saved and if one really opposes the idea of becoming an organ donor, deregistration can be easily done via the government’s website. Harmonization of the organ donor law throughout the entire EU would ensure that finally the high demand for organ donors is met with a similar supply. Additionally, when all Member States have implemented the law, there is the opportunity for cross-border organ donation. The option for deregistration would still stand, and relatives of the deceased person could still halt the process. But think about the lives that could be saved, you would be thankful if there were a donor for you or your sick relative.

Author: Eva Durlinger

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