Monday, August 27, 2012

Another slippery slope?

I  have written here and here about my concerns regarding organ donation.

The only hearts, livers and pancreases used for transplantation are taken from donors whose hearts are still beating when the organs are removed. The donors used to provide organs have been certified as brain-stem dead. They are still breathing; their flesh is still pink and warm; they can process food and drink; a child certified as brain-stem dead can grow to sexual maturity; a pregnant woman certified brain-stem dead can maintain a healthy pregnancy. I do not believe that brain-stem death is in fact death.

Says Dr D. W. Evans: "The basis upon which a mortally sick patient is declared 'deceased' - for the purpose of acquiring his or her organs for transplantation without legal difficulties - is very different from the basis upon which death is ordinarily diagnosed and certified and that highly relevant fact is not fully and generally understood." And again: "The uncomfortable fact is that the brains of the so-called 'brain dead' are not truly and totally dead and the diagnosis does not exclude the possibility that some donors may retain or regain some form or degree of consciousness during the surgical removal of their vital organs. We just do not know."

What's more, potential organ donors and next of kin are led to believe that life support will be switched off and then the organs removed. That they are not told that the organs are removed before life support is switched off is unethical and immoral.

I do not object to people donating their organs for removal after their death if they wish to do so. The end, however, does not justify the means.

Currently there are more sick people wanting organ transplants than there are organs available. In an attempt to deal with the shortage, the Welsh Government is proposing to bring in legislation according to which all people living in Wales for longer than six months, including prisoners, tourists and students, will be deemed to have given permission for their organs to be taken for transplant unless they have specifically registered their objection. While it is needful now to opt in to the organ donor system, people then will be deemed to have given permission for their organs to be removed unless they have opted out.

The authority says that families will be consulted before organs are taken, but there appears to be no legal guarantee that organs will not be taken if families object.

Critics say that a similar change has not been effective in other countries;  that not everyone would be aware of the new legal situation; that the new legislation might lead to a lowering of standards to be met before organs are taken; and that informed consent is important in other medical matters and ought to be important here too.

The Welsh Government has organised a consultation on the proposed legislation. It is not confined to people living in Wales. Replies are required by September 10. Details and suggestions on how to reply are available here and here.

If you have concerns, will you not express them?