BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European legislators strongly backed proposals on Wednesday to increase access to organ donations across the European Union and raise the number and quality of life-saving transplants.
The EU directive on organ donation and transplantation, adopted by a large majority of the European Parliament, is designed to make organs available across the EU's 27 countries, while standardising organ procurement and traceability.
Spain, which holds the rotating six-month presidency of the EU, has been keen to get the directive passed. It has the highest organ donation rate in Europe, with 34 donors for every million citizens. The EU average is just 18.
"Today's vote is a major step forward for the more than 50,000 European patients waiting for an organ transplant," said John Dalli, the EU commissioner for health and consumer policy.
"This is key to ensure that European citizens that need an organ transplant can benefit from the best possible quality and safety conditions."
It is now up to EU member states to implement the measures in the directive -- including setting up a system for monitoring organ procurement -- by passing or changing national laws. Countries have up to two years to pass the relevant legislation.
The EU is hoping a unified system in the bloc of 500 million citizens will help cut down on organ trafficking as well as improving the lives of those in low-donation countries who are waiting for a new liver, kidney, lung or heart.
It is estimated that 12 people in Europe die each day waiting for an organ donation.
In a separate resolution, the European Parliament urged member states to look into schemes whereby citizens are invited to join a donor register when, for instance, applying for identity documents. References to such a membership could then be visible on ID cards or driving licences.
(Reporting by Vincent Chauvet; Editing by Luke Baker and Mark Heinrich)