‘Don’t allow grief-stricken families to veto organ donations’

Dr David Shaw believes respecting an organ donation veto is a failure of moral imagination
Dr David Shaw believes respecting an organ donation veto is a failure of moral imagination
Have your say

FAMILIES should not be allowed to over-rule dead loved ones’ wishes to become organ donors, a Scottish expert has declared.

Dr David Shaw, honorary lecturer at Aberdeen University, revealed about one in ten of families refuses to donate organs when a relative passes away even though that person had stipulated that they wanted to donate their organs.

He said it was “unprofessional” for doctors to over-rule a patient’s dying wish and such action resulted in the deaths of many patients in desperate need of transplants.

Ethicist Dr Shaw’s comments come on the back of a move to look into whether patients should be kept alive using elective ventilation to facilitate the harvesting of their organs for donation.

He said there would be no need for such a procedure if doctors respected the wishes of deceased people who had stated they wanted to donate.

Currently, a family member can refuse to let doctors remove a loved one’s organs even if that person had said they wanted to be a donor at death.

Dr Shaw said families have no legal grounds for over-riding the dead person’s wishes if they clearly wanted to donate, for example if they carried an organ donor card or signed up to an online register.

He revealed many families had later regretted going against their loved one’s decision, wishing they had allowed the donation.

Dr Shaw said: “Giving into the family is unprofessional and lets down the patient and potential recipients of the organs. Furthermore, the patient’s organs have gone to waste and several people have died as a result.”

He suggested that clinicians who heed the veto “are complicit in a family denying its loved one’s last chance to affect the world”.

Dr Shaw said he understood why family members could be upset about donating and he said doctors were reluctant to add to their grief by going against what they wanted.

But he said: “Doctors are ­professionals with obligations to respect the wishes of the dead patient and to promote the health of the public.”

Dr Shaw, writing in the British Medical Journal, called for families and doctors to think about the seriously ill on waiting lists who lose out on organs when a donation is vetoed.

He said: “To respect a family’s veto when the patient was on the organ donor register is a failure of moral imagination that leads to a violation of the dead person’s wishes and causes the death of several people and all the sorrow consequent to this.”

The number of people in Scotland who have signed up as donors has reached a record 2,025,400 people, or 40 per cent of the population

Scotland has one of the highest rates in the UK for people signed up to donate.

Around 600 people are awaiting life-saving transplants in Scotland the Scottish Government recently revealed the number of people who died while waiting for organs has dropped slightly from 38 in 2010-11 to 36 in 2011-12.

It said the number of major organ transplants hit a new high of 342 in 2011-12, compared with 301 in 2010-11.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “All our advertising campaigns emphasise the importance of making sure family and friends know what those wishes are.

“Where relatives object to donation, in opposition to their loved one’s wishes, it is for clinicians to decide whether donation should proceed or not.”