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Friday, July 16, 1999 Published at 16:03 GMT 17:03 UK


Organ donor reform rejected

Donor organs are in short supply

A call by doctors for a review of the organ donation system has been flatly rejected by the government.

The British Medical Association voted at its annual conference last week to lobby ministers to introduce a system of presumed consent.

Under such a system all dead patients would be assumed to have given permission for the use of their organs in transplants unless they had lodged an objection in advance.

But junior health minister John Hutton rejected the idea during a Commons debate on Friday.

He said he was "not convinced" that introducing a system of presumed consent would solve the organ shortage.

[ image: Dr Evan Harris wants a system of presumed consent]
Dr Evan Harris wants a system of presumed consent
The Commons debate was initiated by Liberal Democrat health spokesman Dr Evan Harris, who also raised the topic at the BMA's annual conference in Belfast.

Dr Evans told MPs the "racist" donation row and the case of the 15-year-old girl forced to have a heart transplant highlighted the issue's importance.

He called on the Government to consider changes to the system if evidence suggested the organ shortage could be reduced.

Dr Evans about 70% of the population had expressed a willingness to donate, but only 17% to 18% carried donor cards.

Scrap family veto

[ image: John Hutton claims the public supports the current system]
John Hutton claims the public supports the current system
He suggested another possibility was to scrap the right of a family to veto express wishes to donate organs made by relatives before they died.

An inquiry was launched last week after it was claimed a family consented to the donation of a relative's kidneys only if they were not given to a "coloured".

Mr Hutton insisted the current legal situation was "quite clear".

"I am not convinced that introducing an opt-out system would solve the organ shortage in this country, I think probably far from it.

"The most important factor in any donation system is public confidence."

There was no consensus on this issue among the public or professions and a recent Health Department survey found 50% of the public were in favour of the current system compared with 28% in favour of an opt-out system.

A spokeswoman for the BMA said: "The BMA's medical ethics committee considered the evidence from European countries that where presumed consent systems exist there are higher levels of donation.

"There may be national differences but it does seem that presumed consent is one of a number of ways that organ donation levels can be increased."

She added: "In view of the great shortage of organ donors and the patients who are dying whilst waiting for a transplant, we think it is worthwhile to look at this possibility.

"We are disappointed that the Government appears to have refused to consider this.

"We accept that any system must be preceded with a public education campaign.

"From the Government's response, it seems that it is the politicians that need educating."

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