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EXPLAINED: What Switzerland’s ‘organ donation’ vote means for you

On May 15th, Swiss voters will decide, along with two other issues, on whether to approve the government’s plan of “presumed consent” in organ transplants. This is what you should know.

Surgeons during an operation. Switzerland's waiting list for replacement organs is long.Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash
Surgeons during an operation. Switzerland's waiting list for replacement organs is long.Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

In the second of four rounds of national referendums scheduled for 2022, the Swiss will go to the polls on May 15 to decide on three issues, including one that would, if passed, improve people’s chances of receiving a donor organ in Switzerland. 

The proposal changes the existing law in favour of ‘presumed consent’ for organ donation. 

 At least this is what the Federal Council and the Parliament claim in their support of the transplant /organ donation law.

This is what’s at stake

As elsewhere, the number of people needing transplants in Switzerland far exceeds the number of available organs.

According to data from Swisstransplant, an organisation mandated by the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) to maintain the waiting list of organ recipients and to allocate the organs as they become available, 1462 patients are still waiting for at least one organ. Only 587 people were able to receive transplants, while 72 died while waiting for organs to become available.

As the law stands today, “a transplant is only possible if the deceased person has consented to the donation during his or her lifetime”, the Federal Council explains on its website.

“However, the wish of the person concerned is often unknown. It is then up to the relatives to decide. In the majority of cases, they are against organ donation”.

What is the government proposing?

To increase patients’ chances of receiving an organ, the Federal Council and the Parliament want to amend this legislation to allow collection of organs from any deceased person who did not make their opposition to being a donor known during their lifetime.

“If a person has not objected, it is assumed that they are willing to donate their organs”, authorities said.

READ MORE: How Switzerland’s direct democracy system works

In other words, anyone who does not wish to donate their organs after their death will now have to indicate this explicitly.

Nevertheless, under the proposed law, the relatives of the deceased can refuse organ donation “if they know or suspect that the person concerned would have chosen not to do so. If no relatives can be contacted, no organs may be removed”.

Who is against this law?

A committee composed of various political parties and religious groups argues that  “a conscious and clear ‘yes’ is necessary for any medical intervention. It is inadmissible that this explicit yes is no longer necessary for organ donation”.

Organ donations are only ethically justifiable if the person concerned has given his or her explicit consent during his lifetime, the committee added.

What are the chances of the proposed law to be approved by voters?

According to the latest poll, which  Switzerland’s largest media group, Tamedia, released on Wednesday, 61 percent of survey participants said they would approve the law, while 37 percent would reject it.

Those in favour “believe that sick people would have a better chance of receiving a healthy organ, because the principle of presumed consent would make it possible to increase the number of donors”, Tamedia said.

Opponents, on the other hand, “argue that actively undermining bodily integrity is unethical and even unconstitutional”.
What else will the Swiss vote on May 15th?

The two other issues on the ballot are The Film Act (dubbed ‘Lex Netflix), as well as support for European border guards (Frontex).

You can read about them here:

What is the ‘Netflix vote’ and how could it change TV in Switzerland?

Frontex: How Switzerland’s ‘border vote’ on May 15th could impact travel

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Zurich approves simplified path to Swiss citizenship

Voters in Switzerland’s most populous canton on Sunday approved a proposal which will make it easier for foreigners to get Swiss citizenship.

Zurich approves simplified path to Swiss citizenship

The vote passed with 69.1 percent support, making it the most popular of the four initiatives put to the polls. 

Around 350,000 foreigners live in Zurich, which is roughly one quarter of the population – although the percentage is as high as 50 percent in some municipalities. 

The successful proposal called for Zurich’s naturalisation process, including the citizenship exam, to be made uniform across all 162 municipalities. 

The questions in the exam will now be centralised on a cantonal level. 

The test will include 350 questions about Swiss history, tradition, politics and culture, with a focus on Zurich. 

Anyone taking the test will be given 50 questions at random and must answer at least 30 correctly to pass. 

More information about the citizenship process in Zurich can be found at the following link. 

EXPLAINED: How Zurich wants to make naturalisation easier

What else was decided on Sunday? 

Voters in Zurich also decided to reject a proposal to lower the voting age to 16, with 64.1 percent saying ‘nein’ to the proposal. 

A proposal to provide for more parental leave – and even up gender imbalances between fathers and mothers – was also rejected. 

Finally, voters supported law changes which sought to enshrine Zurich’s climate change goals in the cantonal constitution. 

A detailed breakdown of the vote can be seen here.