Health insurance companies are to send everyone over the age of 16 a questionnaire asking for their choice on organ donation – options will include yes, no, undecided, or whether to even donate specific organs or not.
Social Democratic Party parliamentary leader Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who has led a campaign for the new law since he gave his wife a kidney in 2010, spoke out strongly in favour of the law during Friday's parliamentary debate, saying it was “urgently necessary”.
It is estimated that around 12,000 critically ill people in Germany are waiting for organ transplants, and that several die each day while still waiting. The new law will mean private and statutory insurance companies will write to all their patients every five years asking for their decision.
Health Minister Daniel Bahr said ahead of the vote that the more people donate, the fewer have to wait for life-saving transplantation operations.
“The rules accept it if people do not want to decide at a given point," he said. "But it will not be left to drift. People will be written to regularly. Everyone should consider the matter at least once in their lives."
But there was criticism from the German Hospice Trust, a patient protection group that deplored the fact that the Deutsche Stiftung Organtransplantation (DSO) was not going to be reformed by the new law.
The DSO is run by doctors' organisations, hospitals and health insurers, but has long been under fire for poor administration and scandals concerning finances and cronyism. The hospice trust had hoped that the DSO would be brought more under state control.
A statement said that all the advertising to promote organ donation over the last decade had had little effect on the percentage of people who carry donor cards, which has been stuck at around 10 percent since 1996, the trust said.
“Thus a chance has been thrown away to find a viable solution for the pressing problem in transplant in the transplantation system,” said the trust's manager Eugen Brysch in the statement.
“We will see in Germany that in this way we sadly will not be able to help people on the waiting lists,” he said.