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Last Updated: Sunday, 13 January 2008, 16:44 GMT
'We're human beings, not old cars'
Prime Minister Gordon Brown says he believes everyone should be automatically placed on the organ donor register, but there are those who think it should be a choice for the individual.


Peter and Lyn Bracci
Lyn Bracci found questions asked after her husband's death intrusive

A year ago Lyn Bracci's husband, Peter, died of melanoma cancer. He carried a donor card but because of the cancer, the only part of his body he could donate were his eyes - something he was determined to do.

Mrs Bracci assumed the procedure would be quite straightforward. However, less than 24 hours after his death, she received a phone call from UK Transplant that left her reeling.

"They were asking me so many questions about his health, illnesses, operations: had he been to any South American countries? What were his sexual preferences? Had he ever been with a prostitute, and when did we last make love? " she said.

"It was intrusive and rude. My husband had been ill and they were asking when did you last have intercourse. If it was not so tragic, it would have been funny."

Despite that, the donation went ahead and Peter's gift gave sight to two people.

"There is a positive side to Peter dying that lessens the turmoil that I went through," she said.

Mrs Bracci herself now carries a donor card but says she will withdraw her consent if she thinks her family will have to go through a similar "inquisition".

She believes people should be given the choice whether they wish to opt in.

Also, transplant co-ordinators whose job it is to call relatives should be better qualified and more information should be collected before death, she says.


Joyce Robins, a co-founder of health watchdog Patient Concern, says she is appalled by Gordon Brown's stance.

"Mr Brown has set us on a slippery slope. The government is relying on people just not bothering to opt out and is relying on ignorance of our rights," she said.

"We have been battling with the issue of presumed consent for years. First in regards to loading patient records onto an electronic database, and now this."

On a personal level, she says she does not mind what happens to her body after she dies.

"But I don't carry a donor card because my husband doesn't feel the same way," she added.

"People don't like talking about it because it can be a distressing subject but we are talking about human beings here, not cars in a scrapyard.

She believes the proposals could have a counter-productive effect with patients worrying they would be more valuable as organ donors.

"That then erodes trust in the doctors and surgeons," she said.

"I think Mr Brown wanted to be seen as if he is a strong leader and is doing something and the whole issue has become politicised."

  • UK Transplant says there has to be a very thorough standard list of questions to minimise the risks of transferring any viruses the donor might have onto the recipient.

    A spokeswoman for the organisation said: "As much information as possible will be gathered beforehand from medical records, but we do ask about sexual activity as we need to be aware whether the donor may have been exposed to HIV.

    "I can understand some families might find some of the questions awkward but they are asked for a very good reason.

    "The transplant co-ordinators are very skillful and well-trained. They do work very hard to make that discussion as sensitive as possible and support the family through the process.

    "We are always thankful to those families that follow their loved one's wishes. It's those people that we always want to thank. They make an extraordinary decision at a very difficult time."


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