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"Next of kin should have the final say in what happens to their deceased loved ones’ organs"

At the centre of the national-wide ethical debate is consideration of a new law which could provide a much-needed boost to organ and tissue donation levels.

Under the proposed changes, donation would be presumed unless individuals opt-out before death, as opposed to the current opt-in system which requires willing participants to register.

But Deakin Law School’s Dr Neera Bhatia says the notion that consent would have been given by the deceased is a “legal fiction”.

In a recent paper she argues that next of kin have legal rights over the bodies of their deceased loved ones and this right should extend to their organs.

“We argue that such a system is based on flawed presumptions and, if implemented, an ‘opt out’ (policy) would disrespect the legal and ethical rights of the next of kin and denigrate the concept of gifting,” Dr Bhatia said.

“If such a system was implemented then legislation should include that express consent from next of kin be sought, as they should be recognised as having property rights in the organs and tissues of their deceased relatives.”

Geelong champion for change Louie Hehir, 18, who himself endured two kidney transplants and years on dialysis, is also in favour of the “soft opt out” approach.

The year 12 student, who spent his 10th birthday hooked up to a dialysis machine, has long campaigned for a law change so other young children don’t have to wait for lifesaving surgery.

In September, he presented a 3000-signature petition to the Aged Care Minister in Canberra.

“I believe in the soft opt out, whereby the next of kin still has a say in the decision,” he said.

“Because they understand what its like to be waiting, when I pass away they will respect my wishes and donate my organs.

“The most important thing is to have a discussion with your family.”

Mr Hehir, who is considering a career in politics, previously said the four-year wait for a donor took him to a “depressing ... dangerously dark place”.

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Originally published on Geelong Advertiser