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Dr Bill O'Neill
"Doctors cannot accept conditions"
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BBC Health Correspondent James Westhead
Some hospitals are reluctant to turn down organs even when conditions are attached
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Health minister Lord Hunt
"The last year alone we've increased number on the register by a million"
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Tuesday, 22 February, 2000, 10:18 GMT
New rules on organ donation

Dead man's kidneys and liver accepted

A hospital's decision to accept donor organs on condition they were given to a white patient has been condemned as "abhorrent" by a government investigation.

The dead man's kidneys and liver were "wrongly accepted and wrongly passed through the system", the investigation found.

A report on the incident, due to be published on Tuesday, says that all NHS staff are receiving guidance reminding them that organs offered under racist conditions must be refused.

We want to ensure it can never happen again
Junior Health Minister Lord Hunt
"We reaffirm the absolute unacceptability of any racist conditions and we will be making that clear to all NHS organisations today," Junior Health Minister Lord Hunt told BBC's Radio 4's Today programme.

"We want to ensure it can never happen again."

Lord Hunt said he did not believe either that donors should have the right to, for example, specify that their organs should go only to a child.

The government is also announcing an overhaul of transplant services in the wake of the findings, and criticism over the low level of donation in the UK.

The investigation was ordered by then Health Secretary Frank Dobson last year after the donor scandal emerged.


The unnamed man was in intensive care in a Sheffield hospital in July 1998 when his family were approached and asked if it would be possible to donate his organs.

Relatives told doctors that he had said he was willing to donate his organs, but wanted them to go to a white person.

Doctors eventually accepted the condition and the man's liver and kidneys were transplanted into white patients at the Northern General Hospital in Sheffield.

The row sparked a debate about how organs are donated and transplanted in the UK.

The report by Chris Kelly, permanent secretary for the Department of Health, says that the Sheffield scandal was an "isolated, dreadful case".


Mr Kelly says in the report that it is "abhorrent" that organs should have been accepted on this basis and "worrying" that no-one stopped it.

But the investigation has found no further examples of "racist donations", and says that the people who received the organs would have received them anyway under normal protocol.

The Department of Health is also announcing a review of how transplant services will be modernised.

The UK Transplant Support Services Authority, which co-ordinates transplants, will be renamed UK Transplant and will given new responsibilities to procure more organs.

Britain has a poor record when it comes to transplants - more than 6,000 people were on a waiting list in 1999, yet only 212 operations were carried out.

"It is very important that conditions are not placed in relation to organ donations," he said.

Dr Bill O'Neill, the BMA's special advisor on ethics, said only a very few people attached conditions to donating organs.

He said: "To accept organs with such conditions attached is to drive a coach and horses right through the fundamental principles of healthcare."

The BMA has called for an opt-out of system of donation, where people would have to state their opposition to having organs transplanted rather than carrying donor cards. However, the government has rejected a change in the law.

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See also:
28 Jan 99 |  Health
Organ transplants 'on a knife edge'
28 Dec 98 |  Health
Doctors reconsider transplant stance
17 Feb 99 |  Health
'Force the dead to donate organs'

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