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Monday, 21 October, 2002, 08:01 GMT 09:01 UK
Organ donors 'could be paid'
Organ ready for transplant
Donor organs are scarce
A top surgeon has backed proposals to pay people to donate organs to their relatives - but others fear this could feed a grim trade from developing countries.

The government is currently considering whether or not to change the law to allow payments to relatives to compensate them for the trauma of the operation and any time missed from work.

Some experts hope it could lessen the desperate shortage of donor organs in the UK.

The move has been supported by the president of the Royal College of Surgeon, Sir Peter Bell.

However, following two recent cases in which doctors were disciplined for helping match patients with Third World donors, there are concerns that any link between money and donation could encourage this trade.

'Slippery slope'

Tom Watson, the MP for West Bromwich East, said that bringing money into the donor system would set "a dangerous precedent"

"Once you say it's OK for a relative to be paid for an organ, you're on a slippery slope," he said.

Sir Peter, however, told the BBC: "I was suggesting that money should be used to make this easier - to allow them to get support and to inform them about the benefits of donation.

"If you give your kidney to somebody you're going to be off work for some time, you may even not feel so well for a while - you may all sorts of problems which you haven't foreseen, and that might put you off the act of donation."

He said that any move to allow organs to be purchased from overseas would not be ethically acceptable.

Long lists

Dr Evan Harris MP, Liberal Democrat health spokesman, said he welcomed the proposals.

He said: "It is different from payment or reward which is, as far as relatives are concerned, ethically very different as well as ineffective."

Waiting lists for some kinds of transplant surgery are actually lengthening due to a lack of suitable donors, and an increase in organ-threatening disease such as hepatitis C.

Organs from blood relatives are far more likely to prove a suitable match for the recipient.

A donor can survive easily with a single kidney, although it does increase their vulnerability to the effects of kidney failure themselves - simply because they have no "spare" to fall back on.

Struck off

Warwickshire GP Dr Jarnail Singh was suspended for six months by the General Medical Council this month after being found guilty of encouraging the illegal trade in organs from overseas.

Another GP, Dr Bhagat Singh Makkar, was struck off earlier this year after he told an undercover journalist that he could obtain a kidney from a live donor in exchange for a fee.

The government's consultation on changes to transplant law closed last week, and firm proposals are expected later this year or early next year.

A spokesman said that nothing had been ruled in or out so far.

Royal College of Surgeons' Professor Sir Peter Bell
"Most family members would want to give a kidney provided they know about the pros and cons"
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