Ethics group consults on paying public for organs

Paying donors for their organs and covering the cost of their funeral expenses are two ideas on organ donation being put forward by an ethics research group.

But critics are concerned that offering a financial incentive for organ donation will pressure vulnerable people into giving.

In recent years there have been cases of patients who were presumed dead but awoke to doctors preparing to take their organs.


The Nuffield Council on Bioethics is examining the ethical issues surrounding donations of organs and other “body parts”, including embryo donation, in a public consultation, preceding any official change.

The Council is also examining whether giving non-financial incentives are a good idea as well as questioning how much say donors should have on how their organs are used in the future.

Professor Dame Marilyn Strathern, who is chairing the Council’s working party on the issue, said: “We need to think about the morality of pressing people to donate their bodily material.”


“Offering payment or other incentives may encourage people to take risks or go against their beliefs in a way they could not have otherwise done,” she said.

In response to the consultation, Joyce Robins, co-director of pressure group Patient Concern, expressed worries that there was no patient representative on the working party.

And she also expressed concerns about incentives being offered saying: “The idea of paying living donors for organs is abhorrent as this would be tempting the poor to risk their lives.

“Offers of payment to the family of someone who has just died could tempt them to go against the wishes of their loved ones at a time when they are most vulnerable”.


A debate about whether citizens should have to opt-out of organ donation instead of opting-in has been ongoing.

In 2008 the Prime Minister Gordon Brown said 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.”

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


Doctors are keen to take organs from a body with a beating heart, because the removal of the heart, lungs, liver, pancreas and kidneys must be done before they begin to deteriorate due to cessation of blood circulation.

In recent years there have been cases of people who have had doctors begin to remove organs from them while they were still alive.


Zach Dunlap says he remembers hearing doctors pronouncing him dead on 19 November 2007 at a hospital in Texas. But before surgeons could remove his organs 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 said: “After a few weeks chequered with serious complications, the patient is now walking and talking.”

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