Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

Front Page



UK Politics







Talking Point

In Depth

On Air

Low Graphics

Wednesday, July 7, 1999 Published at 13:03 GMT 14:03 UK


Head to head: Donor ethics

News Online looks at opposing views of the race transplant case

The case of a donor whose family stipulated that their organs could only be used for a white person has raised much controversy.

BBC News Online looks at opposing views on the subject.

Elizabeth Ward, president and founder of the British Kidney Patient Association, argues that donors' wishes should be paramount and says the case distracts from the bigger picture of organ donor shortages.

But Malcom Brown, chairman of the ethics committee of the British Transplantation Society, says doctors should not use an organ if discriminatory conditions have been attached to it.

Elizabeth Ward, British Kidney Patient Association:

"The wishes of the donor should be paramount. If they wish to leave their organ for transplantation and if they have decided that they do not wish someone from the black community to have it that is their business.

"If you have a wife and a mistress and decide to leave a large sum of money in your will to your mistress and not your wife, you can be criticised, but no-one can interfere.

"That is your wish. Transplant and medical teams are trying to save the lives of their patients.

"They should not have to deal with political issues such as racism.

"This is a censorship issue. If anyone should be censured it should be the millions who do not donate their organs at all.

"At least this person was prepared that their organs should be used for a life-saving operation.

"It is the individual's choice and it is marvellous that the person who died was a donor.

"The waiting list for referral for transplants has increased in terrifying numbers.

"Over 6,000 people are waiting on dialysis for a transplant. Just 2,000 transplants are done a year.

"This case is a political one and it clouds the issue of the organ shortage.

"I have been campaigning since the 1970s for opting out. This means people would have to specify that they did not want to donate their organs rather than the other way round.

"Polls show 70% of adults are willing to donate their organs, but many do not get around to registering this while they are alive.

"The family are asked to interpret their wishes, but time and time again they refuse because they are too emotionally involved."

Malcolm Brown, British Transplantation Society:

"The British Transplantation Society has an ethical standards document which was written last year and has been incorporated into our standards.

"It says: 'In general, society does not extend to a donor the right to say to whom their organs can go.'

"Doctors should seek the best match possible for cadaveric donors and not permit discrimination on the grounds of gender, ethnicity or age.

"We do not encourage anyone working in transplants to accept preconditions.

"The standards do not have any force of law, but the transplant community is a very small one and these standards are regarded as the Bible of transplant practice.

"In my job [as head of transplant services at the Royal Liverpool Hospital], I would advise doctors not to accept any conditions attached by relatives regarding ethnicity.

"However, if the donor is a young child, the parents might say they are keen that their organs should go to another child.

"Under these circumstances, I would advise doctors to say they will do their best, but that they cannot give any promises.

"But when it comes to ethnicity, I would not expect any agreement with any preconditions.

"If relatives were adamant they would only donate with these preconditions, my advice would be not to accept the organs.

"The guidelines were designed to cover ethical issues in general, but there have been some cases like this in the past.

"Unfortunately, some people have racist tendencies.

"You would think a person donating an organ would be concerned just with saving life, but some people have such a bias against ethnicity that even at this time when you would think their focus would be elsewhere, those feelings come to the surface."

Advanced options | Search tips

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage | ©

Health Contents

Background Briefings
Medical notes

Relevant Stories

07 Jul 99 | Health
The ethics of transplantation

07 Jul 99 | Health
Dobson: No place for racism in the NHS

06 Apr 99 | Health
Artificial liver 'could cut organ waits'

05 Mar 99 | Health
Marital solution to donor problem

Internet Links

British Organ Donor Society

Department of Health

Transplant resources

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

In this section

Disability in depth

Spotlight: Bristol inquiry

Antibiotics: A fading wonder

Mental health: An overview

Alternative medicine: A growth industry

The meningitis files

Long-term care: A special report

Aids up close

From cradle to grave

NHS reforms: A guide

NHS Performance 1999

From Special Report
NHS in crisis: Special report

British Medical Association conference '99

Royal College of Nursing conference '99