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Wednesday, 14 February, 2001, 01:08 GMT
Doctors call for new donor rules
Transplant organ
There is a shortage of organs for transplantation
Doctors are calling for a swift change to the law to boost organ donation in the wake of the Alder Hey organ scandal.

While there is no evidence yet that potential donors are being lost because of the revelations, a pressure group called the Transplant Partnership is lobbying MPs to ensure this does not happen.

It is concerned that the current mixture of laws covering organ transplantation mean that doctors are being prevented from using a number of organs.

Organs which could be used to help people are being wasted

Dr Michael Wilks
Transplant Partnership
As a result, the gap between the number of people on the waiting list for organs and the number of transplant operations actually carried out is gradually widening year on year.

In a debate held at the headquarters of the British Medical Association in London on Tuesday, the Transplant Partnership's chairman, Dr Michael Wilks, described the situation as "a major problem".

"We have to understand the plight of people on organ dialysis who have a very difficult quality of life which could be transformed by giving them an organ."

A phone poll conducted by the BBC's Watchdog Healthcheck revealed that 78% appeared to be in favour of presumed consent - which would allow doctors to take organs regardless of the objections of the relatives, unless the potential donor had specifically objected.

The BMA supports presumed consent, although the Royal College of Nursing does not.

Single law

The Transplant Partnership wants a single piece of legislation to cover not only the giving and taking of organs from the bodies of those who have suffered brain stem death, but also those whose heart has stopped during treatment, and living people who want to donate a part of their liver, or a kidney, to a close relation.

It wants the strict tests doctors must carry out before asking to remove organs to be enshrined in law.

There is going to be an ever increasing shortage of organs

Professor Sir Peter Morris
Royal College of Surgeons
Dr Wilks said: "At the moment the situation is ambiguous and confusing.

"Organs which could be used to help people are being wasted."

Timothy Statham, of the National Kidney Federation, said: "To make real progress, every aspect of the UK transplantation programme needs an overhaul. Urgent action is needed."

Currently, there are 6,000 people on the waiting lists for organ transplantation in the UK - the numbers needing surgery have increased by more than half over the last decade, but there were 5% fewer operations in 1999 than in 1990.

Professor Sir Peter Morris, vice-president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, told the meeting that transplantation technology was constantly improving.

But he added: "The problem is that no matter how good we get, there is going to be an ever increasing shortage of organs."

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