Every citizen in Iceland is now an organ donor by default. The new “presumed consent” policy assumes Icelanders want to donate their organs unless they specifically say otherwise. Family members also will be able to make decisions on behalf of the deceased.
Silja Dögg, a member of Iceland’s Progressive Party, said she hoped the policy would prompt families to discuss organ donation sooner rather than later: “I want to reiterate to people to discuss their position at the kitchen table at home. This can prevent people from finding themselves in a difficult situation in case of accident or illness of a relative.”
Prior to the law, only about 10 percent of Icelanders had signed up to donate their organs.
Proponents of the new system hope it will shorten wait times for lifesaving procedures. Research indicates a 20 to 30 percent increase in organ donation among so-called “presumed consent” countries such as Spain, Croatia, and Belgium.
Critics say those rates are due to other factors. Spain, for instance, places transplant coordinators in hospitals to encourage and facilitate donations.
In the United States, several policymakers have proposed presumed consent laws but with little success. “Americans get very upset when you presume something about their consent,” said Arthur Caplan, who leads the Division of Medical Ethics at New York University.
Ninety-five percent of U.S. adults support organ donation, but only 54 percent are registered donors. —Anna Johansen