Bioethics Blogs

Families shouldn’t be allowed to veto organ donation

Written By William Isdale and Prof. Julian Savulescu

This article was originally published by The Conversation


Last year, an estimated 12 to 15 registered organ donors and candidates for donation had their decision thwarted by relatives. This was due to the so-called family veto, which enables family members to prevent organ donation even if the deceased person had registered to be an organ donor.

Currently, if an individual decides they don’t want to be a donor, they can register an objection that has legal protection. But the decision to be a potential donor, as registered on the Australian Organ Donation Register, has no such protection.

The family veto can prevent a donation request from proceeding for almost any reason, no matter how emotionally clouded, or even where it is based on religious or philosophical beliefs the deceased would not have agreed with.

In the words of the National Health and Medical Research Council guidelines:

If the objection is unlikely to be resolved or the prospect of organ and tissue donation is causing significant distress to close family                                                   members, the process of donation should be abandoned, despite the previous consent of the deceased.

Legally, the Human Tissue Acts in the various states and territories empower doctors to proceed with donation where there is written consent (as on the Australian Organ Donation Register form).

This means doctors can proceed with organ donation despite the family’s wishes, however most wouldn’t go against the family veto for fear of public backlash.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.