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Who will be affected by the new Swiss organ donation law?

07.10.2022 – SMILLA SCHÄR, OSA LEGAL DEPARTMENT

The question: This spring, voters decided to introduce an opt-out system for organ donation. As a Swiss Abroad living in Germany, I am unclear on how this change affects me. Will it apply to all Swiss citizens, including Swiss Abroad? What happens if I die abroad as a Swiss citizen? And what about tourists staying in Switzerland?

The answer: In the referendum of 15 May 2022, the Swiss electorate voted in favour of the introduction of an extended opt-out system for organ and tissue donations. In future, all deceased individuals are to be assumed to be willing organ and tissue donors – unless they explicitly stated otherwise during their lifetime. Since this is what is known as an extended opt-out system, however, the person’s relatives will still be contacted if the deceased’s wishes were not documented anywhere. A relative can prevent the removal of organs or tissue if, in their opinion, this does not correspond to the wishes of the deceased person. If no relatives can be contacted, no organs or tissue may be removed. These changes will come into force at the beginning of 2024 at the earliest.

A donor organ is removed from the cooled transport container shortly before transplantation. Photo Keystone

In principle, laws on organ and tissue removal are not based on nationality, but instead operate according to the territorial principle. In concrete terms, this means that a person’s location at the time of death determines which laws apply. The May vote will not change this. Regardless of nationality, the opt-out system will therefore apply to anyone who dies in Switzerland – whether they are tourists, Swiss Abroad visiting Switzerland, or people whose permanent residence is in Switzerland.

When Swiss citizens die abroad, the laws of their place of death are applied accordingly. The change to Swiss law is part of a wider trend, as more and more European countries are adopting opt-out solutions. However, there are still exceptions, such as Germany, so it makes sense for Swiss Abroad to research the rules in their country of residence and consider recording their wishes in the relevant registry or document. If you want to be prepared for any eventuality in Switzerland, you can also download and fill out an organ donation card on the Swisstransplant website. This will remain valid even after the amendment to the law comes into force.

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