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EDITIONS
Monday, 8 July, 2002, 11:42 GMT 12:42 UK
New powers call for donor cards
Organ donation
Donation levels vary across the country
Health experts have called for the status of donor cards to be strengthened in an effort to increase the number of organs for transplant in Scotland.

The Scottish Transplant Group (STG) has produced a range of recommendations aimed at giving more people the chance to become an organ donor.

This includes a proposal for the carrying of an organ donor card to be considered an "advance directive".

The move would classify it as a wish which should be respected by doctors and relatives.


I welcome the remaining recommendations but shall be consulting widely before any changes are introduced

Malcolm Chisholm
Health Minister

At present relatives have the final say and can refuse permission for a person's organs to be used - even if the deceased carried a donor card.

The shortage of donors in Scotland was highlighted last week at the launch of National Transplant Week.

Figures showed that the average waiting time for transplants had grown from 18 months to three years over the last decade.

However, the proposals do not go as far as the calls being made by an English MP who wants to introduce "presumed consent" so that a person would have to opt out of having their organs donated rather than "opting in".

The group is also proposing a new programme which would allow the transplant of kidneys after the deceased's heart had stopped beating.

It is also calling for separate legislation dealing with organ retention, donation and transplantation to replace the Human Tissue Act, which dates back to 1961.

The proposals contained in the group's first report have been welcomed by Health Minister Malcolm Chisholm.

Severe shortage

However, he said there would be a period of consultation before the Scottish Executive brought forward any changes.

The STG - which includes health professionals, patients' organisations and members of the public - was created last year to provide advice on organ donation and transplantation.

It said the severe shortage of donor organs was the most pressing issue affecting transplant programmes north of the border.

Its recommendations include:

  • A major publicity campaign to increase awareness of organ donation

  • The introduction of the subject in schools

  • Increasing the number of kidney transplants by live donors

  • The creation of a non-heartbeating donation programme.

The group believes that this idea would "open up the possibility of becoming an organ donor to a much wider range of people".

Most organs are donated from a patient who has been declared brain stem dead, but whose heart is still beating.

Non-heartbeating donation was used when organ donation started in the 1960s and now takes place in a number of centres in the UK.

It is most commonly used when a patient is declared dead after being brought into a hospital's accident and emergency department.

Liquid is introduced through the person's main artery to keep the kidneys cold until a discussion can be carried out with relatives.

Malcolm Chisholm
Malcolm Chisholm welcomed the report

If they do not agree to donation the procedure goes no further, and if they approve the kidneys are removed in the operating theatre and transplantation is carried out in the usual way.

The report says there are advantages and concerns about such procedures.

Mr Chisholm said two of the recommendations - a publicity campaign and a teaching resource pack for schools - were already being implemented.

"I welcome the remaining recommendations but shall be consulting widely before any changes are introduced," he said.

"The responses to the consultation will also help inform the approach we adopt in the publicity campaign."

Health bodies and members of the public have until October to comment on the proposals.

See also:

05 Jul 02 | Scotland
17 Mar 02 | England
18 Aug 01 | Health
22 Jul 02 | Scotland
14 Feb 01 | Health
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