Organ advisers say no to ‘presumed consent’ plan

The Prime Minister’s advisers are expected to reject his plan to allow doctors to place the whole nation on the organ donation register unless they actively opt out.

The taskforce responsible for coming up with a means of increasing organ donation says ‘presumed consent’ is not the answer.

The Organ Donation Taskforce, a group of healthcare professionals, ethicists and lawyers, is understood to believe that the move would create practical problems for the NHS and risk a potential backlash among the public.

Presumed consent schemes operate in some other European countries but many critics here object to the idea of human body parts being treated as state property.

There are also concerns that over-eager doctors could be encouraged to pronounce patients dead too quickly in a rush to harvest their organs.

  • Stories of people who woke before their organs were harvested
  • Earlier this year Gordon Brown argued of presumed consent: “A system of this kind seems to have the potential to close the aching gap between the potential benefits of transplant surgery in the UK and the limits imposed by our current system of consent.”

    However, medical experts pin the organ shortfall on flaws in the current system which will not be fixed through presumed consent.

    Tim Statham of the National Kidney Federation, which is in favour of presumed consent, admits that “it isn’t a lack of donors that lies at the heart of this problem. There’s a shortage of transplant surgeons, lack of culture to encourage transplants”.

    Writing in today’s Times, Rafael Matesanz and John Fabre, two leading organ transplant experts, conclude: “The idea that the absence of an objection represents informed consent is plainly nonsense, and consent that is not informed is valueless.”

    Philip Johnston of The Daily Telegraph says more effort should be directed at exploring alternatives “long before we get anywhere near ‘presumed consent’, a specious term that seeks to give a veneer of ethical justification to what is the purloining by the state of the organs of dead people”.


    Zach Dunlap says he remembers hearing doctors pronouncing him dead on 19 November last year at a hospital in Texas. But then he started showing signs of life by moving his hand and foot.

    He then reacted to a pocket knife scraped across his foot and pressure being applied under his fingernail. After 48 days recovering in hospital he was allowed home.


    French newspaper Le Monde ran an article about a 45-year-old Parisian who began to show signs of life just as transplant surgeons were about to harvest his organs after failing to resuscitate him.

    Doctors continued to massage his heart for an hour and a half before surgeons arrived to remove his organs for donation.

    As the surgeons began to operate, the man began to breathe and reacted to a pain test. A report on the incident says: “After a few weeks chequered with serious complications, the patient is now walking and talking.”

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