LONDON, England (CNN) -- British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said he supports plans to allow hospitals to take dead patients' organs without their prior consent.
Gordon Brown says the shortage of transplant organs is "an avoidable human tragedy we can and must address."
Writing in a British newspaper Sunday, Brown said the change was needed to cover a shortfall in donors which led to more than 1,000 people in Britain dying each year awaiting transplants, a situation he called an "avoidable human tragedy."
In an article in the Sunday Telegraph, he said there were currently more than 8,000 people in the country awaiting organ donation but only 3,000 transplants were carried out each year.
"Many of us will have friends and family members who have benefited from transplant surgery, or - tragically - who have endured the agonizing wait for a life-saving organ that did not become available in time," the prime minister wrote in the Sunday Telegraph.
"That is an avoidable human tragedy we can and must address," he added.
Under the present system people must sign up to an organ donor register if they want to give up their organs after they die. A total of 14.9 million people -- around 24 per cent of the population -- are on the register.
However, Brown said he backed moving to a system of "presumed consent" whereby a dead person's organs would automatically be available for transplant unless individuals had opted out of the national register or family members objected.
The proposals are closely modeled on the donor system in Spain where Brown said around 35 people per million had their organs used by hospitals. This compares with 13 donors per million in Britain and 25 per million in America, he added.
Although in Spain consent is presumed by law, families are still asked to give their permission for the donation to go ahead.
The system is managed by dedicated transplant co-ordinators who talk to grieving relatives, often within a few hours of death, to seek their consent.
Brown said he wanted to start "a serious debate" about the issue of organ donation, which remains contentious especially among many faith groups and patients' rights bodies who argue the decision should be left to the patients and their families alone.
"It is a sensitive issue, and one on which many different points of view need to be heard. I want to start a genuine debate, and I recognize that there will be legitimate concerns that need to be heard," Brown wrote. E-mail to a friend