The little-known French organ law that helps save lives

To mark world organ-donor day, we look at France's law when it comes to organ donations, which you probably aren't familiar with.

Most people are presumed to be organ donors in France
Most people are presumed to be organ donors in France. Photo: AFP
While in many countries you have to opt-in to be an organ donor, it doesn’t work that way in France. 
In fact, every adult in France is presumed to be an organ donor, unless they have specifically registered not to be one.
This has been the case since the Loi Caillavet (‘Caillavet Law’) was passed in 1976, making everyone an organ donor except for those who have explicitly refused, as well as minors and those under someone else’s guardianship (such as the mentally disabled). 
If you want to opt out of becoming an organ donor, it is necessary to sign up in an online registry or by mail and provide an official piece of identification
The Loi Caillavet was introduced in order to combat the shortage of organ donations made compared to the number of patients in need of a transplant but despite the law, France still suffers from a shortage of organ donations.
People in France can now go online to opt out of being organ donors
Photo: AFP
In 2015, 553 people died while awaiting an organ transplant, according to Le Monde, which also reveals another interesting statistic: while 79 percent of survey respondents say that they are willing to donate their organs, doctors are only allowed to perform the removal 67 percent of the time when the conditions are right for such an operation.
How to explain this gap? In practice, French doctors will always consult with the family members of the potential donor before performing the procedure, and are met with a refusal about a third of the time.
In order to present such a refusal, the family member must attest – in writing – to a previously expressed rejection of organ donation by the potential donor. 
If you’re a foreigner deceased (or in the process thereof) in French territory, however, the law in your home country takes priority.
That means that if you haven’t expressed willingness to become an organ donor in a home country where expressed consent is necessary, your consent won’t be assumed, as it would be for a French citizen.
Organ donation remains a subject capable of arousing debate and discussion, in France as elsewhere. Those interested may be interested in Maylis de Kerengal’s critically-acclaimed novel, Réparer les vivants (‘Mend the Living’), or its 2016 film adaptation.

Member comments

  1. It sounds, oddly, like a French organ donor card would be a good idea in practice.

    As a foreigner, I am carrying one in my wallet, but would French police/ medical services look for it?

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France brings in free contraception for all women aged 18-25

Free birth control for all women under 25 will be available in France from Saturday, expanding a scheme targeting under-18s to ensure young women don't stop taking contraception because they cannot afford it.

France brings in free contraception for all women aged 18-25
A doctor holds an interuterine contraceptive device (IUD) before inserting it in a patient. Photo: Adek Berry/AFP

The scheme, which could benefit three million women, covers the pill, IUDs, contraceptive patches and other methods composed of steroid hormones. Contraception for minors was already free in France.

Several European countries, including Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Norway, make contraception free for teens. Britain makes several forms of contraception free to all.

France announced the extension to women under 25 in September, saying surveys showed a decline in the use of contraception mainly for financial reasons.

The move is part of a series of measures taken by President Emmanuel Macron’s government to boost women’s rights and alleviate youth poverty. The free provision is supported by women’s groups including the association En Avant Tous.

“Between 18 and 25-years-old, women are very vulnerable because they lose a lot of rights compared to when they were minors and are very precarious economically,” spokeswoman Louise Delavier told AFP.

Leslie Fonquerne, an expert in gender issues, said there was more to be done.

“This measure in no way resolves the imbalance in the contraceptive burden between women and men,” the sociologist said.

In some developed countries, the free contraception won by women after decades of campaigning is coming under attack again from the religious right.

In the United States, former president Barack Obama’s signature health reform, known as Obamacare, gave most people with health insurance free access to birth control.

But his successor Donald Trump scrapped the measure, allowing employers to opt out of providing contraception coverage on religious grounds — a decision upheld by the Supreme Court in 2020.

Poland’s conservative government has also heavily restricted access to emergency contraception as part of its war on birth control.