Concern over organ plan to re-start hearts of the dead
CHURCH groups in Scotland have reacted with concern to proposals by the British Medical Association to boost numbers of donated organs by restarting the hearts of people who have recently died.
The British Medical Association (BMA) said more needed to be done to increase the number of organs, including considering “difficult concepts” such as restarting hearts so they can be used in transplants.
Other options include using organs from higher-risk patients such as the elderly, and developing guidelines for using the hearts of babies aged under three months who have no chance of surviving.
Dr Sue Robertson, a renal physician and member of the BMA’s Scottish Council, said: “As doctors it is difficult to see our patients dying and suffering when their lives could be saved or dramatically improved by a transplant.”
However, the authors of the report Building on Progress: Where next for organ donation policy in the UK? acknowledged that “the fact that an individual is declared dead following cessation of cardio-respiratory function but the heart is subsequently restarted and transplanted into another person is a difficult concept.”
Dr Tony Calland, chairman of the BMA’s Medical Ethics Committee, added: “These are complex issues that throw up many ethical challenges.
“It is important that society discusses them openly in a reassuring way. The aim here is to save lives while at the same time protecting individual rights and autonomy.”
A spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland said one area of concern would be the “definition of death”.
“If you have someone whose heart has stopped and the heart is then restarted technically the person is still alive.”
He added: “What would be a huge danger would be if a doctor in an emergency situation was looking at someone who in theory could be resuscitated but could be a source of organs. We don’t want that situation.”
A spokesman for the Church of Scotland said they supported an increase in the number of organs available for donation.
“However, it is of paramount importance that any measures should have a central focus on the dignity of the deceased person and the deceased person’s family,” he added.
The report repeated the BMA’s long-standing support of a “soft opt-out” system, where there is presumed consent but the views of a dead person’s relatives would be taken into consideration.
This is being considered in Wales but Scotland and England have no plans to change the existing opt in system.
In Scotland, 778 people are on the transplant waiting list. The BMA said studies show that up to 90 per cent of the population supports organ donation, yet only about a third have signed up to the organ donor register.
“A ‘soft’ opt-out system would better reflect the views of the Scottish people,” said Dr Robertson.
The Scottish Catholic Church spokesman believes presumed consent is “fundamentally flawed”.
“Morally and ethically it’s wrong. No-one should have an organ removed without their explicit consent,” he said.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We will be asking the Scottish Transplant Group, which advises the Government in this area, for a view on the various proposals.”
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