Germany debates changing to ‘opt-out’ organ donation system

Germany's Health Minister Monday pushed an initiative to boost the availability of transplant organs by making everyone a potential donor after death unless they have expressly opted out.

Germany debates changing to 'opt-out' organ donation system
German Health Minister Jens Spahn at a press conference Monday to discuss new rules for organ doners. Photo: DPA

The aim of the presumed-consent rule is to reduce Germany's current backlog of about 10,000 patients awaiting transplant organs — and the about 2,000 deaths a year of those who wait in vain.

SEE ALSO: Organ donor numbers in Germany fall to lowest level in 20 years

Under the new proposal, citizens would be asked to state whether they object to having their organs or tissue harvested after they are pronounced brain dead.

Those who say “no” would be listed in a national registry run by the health ministry, while all others would be considered potential donors — a principle in place across most of the European Union.

This would spell a reversal of Germany's current rules, which ask people to state their consent, meaning they have to opt-in to become organ donors.

Close relatives would still be able to block the taking of organs if they convincingly argue that the deceased would have objected.

Health Minister Jens Spahn of the centre-right CDU said there are about 10,000 patients waiting for transplant organs and that 2017 had seen a record-low of fewer than 800 donations.

“Anyone of us could be in need of an organ tomorrow,” Spahn said at a Berlin press conference, presenting the plan with lawmakers from the conservative CSU, the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) and the far-left Die Linke party.

Ethics debate

Spahn said Germany's potential number of organ donors is far higher as surveys had shown that over 80 percent of respondents supported the idea in theory.

Under current rules, people can sign an organ donor card and carry it in their wallets so that if they die, hospitals know they are allowed to harvest their organs. Only about 30 percent of Germans carry such a donor card.

“We have about 10 times more people on the waiting list for an organ than the number of organs that are transplanted per year,” said the SPD's Karl Lauterbach.

“Every year about 2,000 people on the waiting list die.”

Some lawmakers have objected to the initiative. The CSU's Stephan Pilsinger labelled Spahn's plan “ethically questionable” and said it amounted to turning patients into “spare parts warehouses”.

SEE ALSO: Germany still has too few organ donors after scandal

Under the plan, presented jointly with Green party co-leader Annalena Baerbock, citizens would be regularly questioned whether they want to be donors.

This could be done when they extend their identity papers or during routine medical visits.

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Monkeypox in Germany: Two teens ‘among new infections’

Two teenage boys between the ages of 15-17 have reportedly been infected by monkeypox, as the number of cases in Germany continues to grow.

Monkeypox in Germany: Two teens 'among new infections'

German news site Spiegel Online first reported the new cases – which are an anomaly for a virus as it has mostly affected gay men – following an inquiry to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI). 

They are among a total of 2,677 people who are confirmed to have contracted the virus in Germany to date. There have not been any fatalities.

Out of these, only five cases were women, according to the RKI. The public health institute said that it does not release information on individual cases.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How Germany wants to contain the monkeypox

The disease – which is not usually fatal – often manifests itself through fever, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, chills, exhaustion and a chickenpox-like rash on the hands and face.

The virus can be transmitted through contact with skin lesions and droplets of a contaminated person, as well as through shared items such as bedding and towels.

Many of the cases known so far concern homosexual and bisexual men. However, affected people and experts have repeatedly warned against stigmatising gay communities.

How fatal is the disease?

The first monkeypox cases were reported in Germany on May 20th, as the disease continued to spread in West Europe.

At the weekend, the first two deaths outside of West Africa were reported in Spain.

READ ALSO: WHO warns ‘high’ risk of monkeypox in Europe as it declares health emergency

The RKI has urged people returning from West Africa and in particular gay men, to see their doctors quickly if they notice any chances on their skin.

According to the latest estimates, there are 23,000 monkeypox cases worldwide, and Europe is particularly affected with 14,000 cases.

There have been 2,677 monkeypox cases in Germany as of August 2, 2022. Photo: CDC handout

About eight percent of patients in Europe have been hospitalised so far, reported the World Health Association on Monday, mostly due to severe pain or additional infections.

In general, the mortality of the variant currently circulating in Europe is estimated to be low.

READ ALSO: More cases of monkeypox ‘expected’ in Germany

Will a vaccine make a difference?

Since July, a vaccine has been authorised in 27 EU member states and in Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. 

The Standing Committee on Vaccination (STIKO) recommends vaccination against monkeypox in Germany for certain risk groups and people who have had close contact with infected people.

So far, the German government has ordered 240,000 vaccine doses, of which 40,000 had been delivered by Friday. 

Around 200,000 doses are set to follow by the end of September. 

The German Aids Federation (DAH) on Friday called for one million vaccine doses, stressing that the current supplies will fall short of meeting need.

“The goal must be to reduce the number of infections as quickly as possible and to get the epidemic permanently under control,” explained Ulf Kristal of the DAH board in Berlin on Friday.

But this is only possible, he said, if as many people at risk of infection as possible are vaccinated.

“We don’t assume the epidemic will be over when the doses available so far have been vaccinated,” Axel Jeremias Schmidt, Epidemiologist and DAH Consultant for Medicine and Health Policy, wrote in a press release.

As long as there are monkeypox infections, he said, people who are at risk must be offered vaccination.