All Dutch residents to be organ donors by default as controversial law passes Senate

An electronic stethoscope
An electronic stethoscopeStethoscopes / Wikimedia Commons

The Dutch Senate voted in favor of a new law that automatically makes every adult living in the Netherlands an organ donor. Adults will have to explicitly opt-out of being a donor if they do not wish to participate in the life saving medical procedure.

A narrow majority of 38 senators voted in favor of D66 parliamentarian Pia Dijkstra's bill. 36 senators voted against the measure in a roll-call vote on the floor of the Eerste Kamer, the upper house of Dutch parliament. Senator Arda Gerkens of the Socialist Party did not vote, and it was rumored that Gerkens would have voted against the measure.

The proposal initially passed the Tweede Kamer, the lower house, on September 13, 2016, in a roll-call vote that saw nine parliamentarians cross party lines resulting in a 75-74 vote victory with one MP not present to give voice. Had the MP, Frank Wassengberg arrived on time for the vote he would have voted against the bill, effectively blocking its passage.

The bill now goes to the office of King Willem-Alexander for his signature, and it will be counter-signed by a minister at the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport. There are two ministers there, including Bruno Bruins who has oversight over medical care issues, and Hugo de Jonge who leads policy on all other issues at the department.

Known as the Active Donor Registration (ADR), potential donors still have the option of giving permission to donate their organs in advance, denying that permission, placing the onus on surviving family members, or granting one person the power to decide on medical donation. However, not submitting the required form results in a person giving permission by default, according to the text of the bill.

The bill is meant to make people actively think about the organ donation decision, instead of delaying a decision without consequence. An amendment to the bill was also passed that calls on the government to create guidelines in conjunction with the health care authority, and which can also create a scenario where survivors may still stop the removal of organs.

Nearly 4,500 people de-registered as organ donors after the Tweede Kamer passed the bill, even though two years earlier, over 60 percent of Dutch adults surveyed said they would support an ADR system. In subsequent years, it grew harder and harder to get people in the Netherlands to register as an organ donor.

It is expected that this law will be implemented in 2020.