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Thursday, July 8, 1999 Published at 15:45 GMT 16:45 UK


Transplant surgeon recalls controversial donations

Organ donations do sometimes have conditions placed upon them

A leading transplant surgeon has said he can remember conditions being attached to organ donations on 10 occasions during his career.

Renal transplant surgeon Bob Johnson: "Why we rejected the organs"
Consultant Bob Johnson, head of the renal transplant unit at Manchester Royal Infirmary, which has been in the news for turning down the organs of an Asian patient after relatives said they could only be donated to a Muslim.

Mr Johnson said he had been involved with 2,500 transplants, and had witnessed 10 cases where relatives had only agreed to donate to their own race or religion.

Mr Johnson cited two cases of Muslim relatives requesting conditions.

He said kidneys had also been received from Ireland marked for use by Protestants or Catholics only.

He said: "In July last year permission to donate was sought from a young Asian woman whose husband had died from a brain haemorrhage in his early 30s.

"She was surrounded by her family who thought she should take advice from their religious leaders.

"They said the organs should only be given to a Muslim recipient.

"This pre-condition could not be put aside.

"We couldn't ask people if they were Muslims. It would have been impossible.

"It is difficult to match the tissue. We couldn't then match them with the same religion."

He added: "Earlier last year we had a similar request. The family dropped the pre-conditions and by chance one organ did go to a Muslim recipient.

"We have previously had problems when the Troubles in Northern Ireland were at their height.

"We had conditions that kidneys were not to go to Catholics.

"These are all the prejudices which go with lack of education and ignorance which linger in society."

New law is not feasible

[ image: Frank Dobson has suggested a new law]
Frank Dobson has suggested a new law
Mr Johnson said he was totally opposed to the imposition of conditions, but warned the government against any new law to stop the practice.

He said: "It may be that people will not offer to donate organs because they feel that they could not make any conditions.

"At least at the moment if conditions are made there is a chance we can change their minds.

"A new law would mean that they may not come forward in the first place."

Health Secretary Frank Dobson has ordered an inquiry into a case in which doctors at Sheffield's Northern General Hospital agreed to a family's demand that organs could only be used to help a white person.

Mr Dobson later pledged to change the law if necessary to stop the possibility of "racist donations".

He said: "I have made my position quite clear. I have not been an opponent of apartheid all my adult life to see it being introduced in the NHS.

"We will not tolerate it. It never occurred to me that a rule would be necessary to keep racism out of blood transfusions and donations. If it needs introducing then we will introduce it."

Mr Johnson said that current guidelines already state that no promises are to be made as to who will benefit from the organs.

"The guidelines may need to be modified but a new law would be crazy - and impossible to create."

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