FAMILIES CAN'T STOP DOCTORS TAKING ORGANS; Controversial New Law on Donor Cards

Article excerpt

Byline: JULIE WHELDON

FAMILIES are to lose the right to block the removal of organs from loved ones who carried donor cards.

New laws coming into force tomorrow make the deceased person's wishes paramount.

At present, even if people carry a donor card, their relatives can prevent doctors harvesting their organs.

One in ten families do so.

Now that possibility has been stopped as part of moves to tackle the chronic shortage of organ donors - some 500 people a year die waiting for a transplant.

The change is likely to cause considerable anguish to relatives who do not wish to see their loved one go under the knife after death. There will also be concern that it could be a step closer to the idea of presumed consent - in which people's organs would be taken for donation unless they expressly opted out.

The new Human Tissue Act will also let people, while still alive, donate organs to people who are not relatives. This could lead to 'swap' transplants involving two pairs of strangers with

compatible tissue types.

More than 8,000 people in the UK currently need a transplant, but the organ shortage means fewer than 3,000 are carried out each year.

Chris Rudge of UK Transplant, which provides organ matching and allocation services, said: 'There is a critical shortage of donated organs and many more people could receive a lifesaving transplant with the donor's wishes being given priority.' UK Transplant pointed out that all major religions support organ donation.

Adrian McNeill, chief executive of the Human Tissue Authority, the body set up to police the Act, said: 'For the first time it is lawful for the deceased person's wishes to take precedence over anyone else's.

'People will be reassured that their wishes expressed while they were alive are now more likely to be followed.' In practice, doctors in such cases will be encouraged to reach an understanding with families. Doctors will be able to take organs only from people who have joined the NHS Organ Donor Register, are carrying a card or have given advance consent to medical staff. If a person has not made their wishes clear, it will still be up to their closest relative.

The British Medical Association said: 'The BMA is deeply worried about the shortage of organs for transplants and the loss of life as a result. People should be able to decide what happens to their tissue or body after death and the BMA would encourage individuals to make that decision and talk to their relatives about their wishes. …