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Swiss organ donation consent at 'shameful' low

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Swiss organ donation consent at 'shameful' low
Geneva's university hospital (HUG). Photo: Julien Gregario
11:21 CEST+02:00
Organ donation in Switzerland is lagging far behind other European countries, according to a new study which found more than half of potential donors in Switzerland refuse consent.

The study, carried out by the University of Bern and organ donation organization Swisstransplant during 2013, surveyed every hospital in Switzerland during the course of a year.

Published this month and reported by newspaper Le Matin on Friday, the findings revealed that nearly 53 percent of potential organ donors either failed to register their consent during their lifetime or had consent refused by relatives after their death.

The figure is higher than in 2008 (42 percent) and far greater than the European average of 30 percent.

Speaking to Le Matin about the study, Dr Philippe Morel, vice-president of Swisstransplant and head of the transplant service at Hôpitaux Universitaires de Genève (HUG) said: “A quarter of patients on the waiting list do not receive a transplant and die. For a developed country like Switzerland that’s shameful.”

The simple solution, he added, would be to follow the example of some other European countries by reversing the status quo so that everyone is presumed to consent to organ donation unless they opt out.

“Presumed consent is much more favourable for organ donation,” he said.

An opt-out system is already in force in several European countries including Spain, Austria and Sweden.

Wales is to become the first UK country to change to the system when new legislation comes into force in December 2015.

But there is little political will for the motion in Switzerland, feels Morel.

“It’s a calamity. The public sense the nervousness of political decision-makers.”

According to Morel, Swiss-Germans are more likely than their Romandie neighbours to refuse donation, which he attributes to cultural reasons.

“There is a different approach towards medicine there,” he said. “German-speaking Switzerland is influenced by the German suspicion towards medicine.”

In Romandie, where the rate of refusal (41,2 percent) is lower than the national figure, the creation of an organization to identify potential donors has helped make progress on the issue.

The Latin Organ Donation Programme (PLDO) is based out of HUG and aims to support partner hospitals across seven French-speaking cantons to identify donors, care for relatives and coordinate donation procedures and training.

“Thanks to the PLDO there are several coordinators in Romandie," said Morel. "It’s starting in German-speaking Switzerland too. That gives us hope, but it’s still too little.”

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