New law creates first opt-out organ donation system in UK
A new law has been passed to create the first opt-out organ donation system in the UK.
The Human Transplantation (Wales) Act will turn the donation process on its head. It means that people not wanting to give up their organs after their death must sign a register - rather than choosing to take part.
Ministers hope a soft "opt-out" scheme - praised by medical experts but criticised by some religious leaders - will drive up transplant rates and save lives.
Wales First Minister Carwyn Jones heralded the new law as historic.
He said: "The Act has had a long genesis through committees and through the Assembly. It happens to be the most significant piece of legislation the Assembly has ever passed."
The Act was unveiled in the media suite of the Welsh Government's offices in Cathays Park, Cardiff, during a special ceremony.
The three-stage process began with the Queen signing the Letters Patent before Mr Jones, who also holds the title of Keeper of the Seal, used a hand-wound press to stamp the Act.
The new legislation became official after being given Royal Assent.
The Welsh Government has long said there is a desperate need to drive up transplantation rates - with 226 people in Wales waiting for a transplant.
Officials hope the new legislation will increase donors by around a quarter.
Once implemented, people will have to choose not to donate their organs and it would apply to over-18s who die in Wales if they have lived in the country for more than 12 months.
Organs made available under the system would be the same as the "opt-in" method - including kidneys, heart, liver, lungs and pancreas - and would not only go to donor patients in Wales. They could go anywhere in the UK.
The scheme faced opposition from some religious groups, which claimed it would make conscripts out of donors.
But ministers have denied this and described the system as a "soft opt-out".
They say it will allow relatives or "friends of long standing" to object to someone's organs being used if they had not asked to be removed from the register. The final decision will rest with medical staff if they decide to continue with the process - provided a match has been found.
No organs donated in Wales under this method will go anywhere in the UK and vice-versa.
The new law will come into effect on December 1 2015.
Ministers will stage a two-year, £8 million publicity drive in the meantime so people are well briefed about the changes.
Wales's Health Minister Mark Drakeford said people would be given plenty of information on how the new system works and what choices they have.
He added: "Even today people can help others by ensuring their loved ones know their wishes about organ donation and I would encourage everyone to have that conversation."