The new law means that everyone in the country will regularly be asked by their health insurer whether they want to be organ donors after their death. Although people will not be forced to answer, it is hoped many who have not considered the idea before will be encouraged to sign up.
Currently around 12,000 people are waiting for an organ in Germany, with hundreds dying each year while waiting.
The concept of fairness, with those in the most urgent medical need being put at the top of the waiting list for organs, is crucial to the pan-European system of organ donation, but was dealt a couple of hefty blows this year by scandals at German hospitals.
A leading doctor working in Göttingen is under investigation after he was accused of systematically changing the medical records of his patients to make them appear sicker than they were – in order to bump them up the transplant waiting list.
It is thought at least 25 patients were pushed up the list unfairly – leaving others in need to wait for longer, and potentially dying while they waited. Another investigation was started last month after similar suspicions emerged at a Munich hospital.
These scandals apparently did nothing to increase the willingness of people to register to donate organs after their deaths.
“The willingness to donate has stagnated since the beginning of the year, sadly,” said Health Minister Daniel Bahr on Thursday. He said he absolutely rejected exerting any pressure on people to donate their organs.
The health insurers have until next November to write to their members asking whether they want to sign up.
Statutory insurer the Techniker Krankenkasse (TK) is writing to its members now. “The reports of potential manipulation with organ distribution has understandably left many people unsure,” said TK head Jens Baas.
“Therefore we are of the opinion that they now need factual and unbiased information.”
Other insurers will be contacting their members next year. The Federal Centre for Health Education says around 74 percent of Germans are in favour of donating organs after their death in principle – but only 25 percent of people have a donor card.