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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 25 September, 2002, 11:06 GMT 12:06 UK
Call for 'opt out' donor scheme
Organ donation
Nearly 6,500 people are waiting for organ transplants
All adults should be considered potential organ donors unless they have expressly said otherwise, Liberal Democrats urged on Wednesday.

The party is calling for the government to change the rules governing organ donation from an "opt in" system to an "opt out" one.


For every George Best, there are many people in desperate need of a life saving or life transforming transplant who die while waiting

Evan Harris
Under the plan, individuals will be presumed to have consented to their organs being used for transplant unless they have registered their wish not to be considered.

The motion was approved at the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton.

The debate follows a call for a change in the law by Richard Spurgin, whose daughter Kate Trevarthen, 27, died from a rare form of heart disease in July this year after waiting for a transplant for three months.

The Lib Dems approved a proposal to keep people alive to preserve their organs for donation.

Donor card

Also agreed was a plan for kidneys from those still alive to be donated to unrelated patients and for the organs of potential donors who are dead on arrival at hospital to be preserved.

Currently, individuals "opt-in" to donate their organs after death by carrying a donor card.

Research has shown that although 70% of the population are willing to donate, only 15% of the population have signed up to the NHS organ donor register.

A piloted version of the so-called "soft" system of presumed consent in Belgium has seen a 30% rise in lives saved, the British Medical Association says.

Chance of life

The row over the retention of thousands of organs at Alder Hey Hospital in Liverpool two years ago, did not directly lead to a drop in organ donors.

Mr Spurgin, 58, said his daughter Kate could have been given the chance of life if an "opt out" system had been in place and a heart was available.

Kate was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy in early 2000 and from then spent most of her time in hospitals.

She was placed on the waiting list for a heart transplant in April this year, but collapsed and died at home in July.

'Wonderful legacy'

Mr Spurgin, a retired deputy headteacher from Harleston, Norfolk, said: "Obviously between April and July, had a donor been available, she may have had a chance."

Mr Spurgin said Kate had been a "passionate believer" in organ donation.

As soon as she was pronounced dead her husband, Steve, gave the go-ahead for her organs to be used - in the end for 54 different people.

He described it as a "wonderful legacy" and said that seeing her afterwards "you wouldn't have known that she had given so much of herself".

At the end of last year 6,482 people were waiting for organ transplant and the list is still growing.

'Urgent problem'

Mr Spurgin insisted he was not a member of the Lib Dems nor of any other political party, but said: "We are so thrilled that a political party has the guts to do something which we believe the majority of the population of this country want and can see the sense in."

Lib Dem health spokesman Dr Evan Harris said: "This is an urgent problem. For every George Best, there are many people in desperate need of a life saving or life transforming transplant who die while waiting.

"Many organs are lost to burial or cremation when their owners would have wanted them to be used to save a life.

"It's time for the government to consider calls from Parliament, and from organisations such as the BMA, to replace the current donor opt-in system with an opt-out system."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health spokeswoman said: "Current government policy is not one of presumed consent, but of informed consent.

"Following the Redfern (into Alder Hey) and Bristol (Royal Infirmary) reports, we gave an undertaking to revise the law on the taking, storage and use of human tissue from the living and the dead."


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03 Aug 02 | Health
05 Jul 02 | Health
17 Mar 02 | England
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14 Feb 01 | Health
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