By Elizabeth O’Brien

England, July 17, 2007 ( – Britain’s Chief Medical Officer has urged that in order to meet the growing organ transplant demand, legislation should make organ donation the default for patients.

Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson stated in Britain’s annual health report this year that the United Kingdom needs three times the number of organ donors on the National Health Service (NHS) register, the Guardian Unlimited reports. He referred to the present situation in the UK as a transplant “crisis.”

Donaldson said: “To meet the current demand for organs, the number of people on the NHS donor register would need to approximately treble. I believe we can only do this through changing the legislation to an opt-out system with proper regulation and safeguards.”

Donaldson’s proposition is in line with a 2005 statement by the British Medical Association (BMA) urging for the patient’s “presumed consent for organ donation.” The report underlined the BMA’s disappointment that British law did not already have such a provision and defended its position claiming, “90% of people would be willing to donate their organs for transplantation purposes, but less than a quarter of the population are on the NHS Organ Donor Register.”

When approaching relatives, “Instead of being asked to consent to donation, they would be informed that their relative had not opted out of donation and, unless they object-either because they are aware of an unregistered objection by the individual or because it would cause major distress to the close relatives-the donation would proceed.” medical advisor Dr. Shea commented on Donaldson’s proposal: “This is a statistics game being played,” he said. “People might get fooled because they didn’t read the small print. The default position is too dangerous in terms of the person not understanding it, not opting-out because they failed to appreciate that they had the option.”

Referring to organ harvesting, he explained, “What you have here is a huge operation in which the aim of saving the life of someone is good, but the methods are at best dubious. In the fuzzy area in between life and death, sometimes a person dies, but no one knows exactly when.”

“It’s atrocious. There is no moral certainty that a person is dead when they are declared brain dead or declared to have suffered cardiac death. Morally speaking, you are not entitled to do something that would endanger a person’s life if there is any doubt whether they are alive or not. It’s like hunting,” he said. “You can’t shoot if you’re not sure whether it’s a deer or a man. You need moral certainty.”

Furthermore, he stated, “No doctor can really tell whether a person will die or get better when they come in. One of the criterions given for brain death is irreversible loss of function for the entire brain. This is a prognosis, not a diagnosis. It’s either taken place or not. It’s like an irreversible car-crash. It’s a logical impossibility.”

The moral difficulty posed by organ donation is poignantly illustrated by the fact that there have been several cases of women who have been brain dead for significant periods of time who have still given birth to babies. In 2005, for example, the case of a 26-year old pregnant Virginia woman gained world-wide attention. Susan Torres was brain dead after suffering a stroke, but was kept on life-support for three months until after her baby was born by Caesarean section.

Read related LifeSiteNews coverage:

Brain-Dead Virginia Woman Gives Birth To Healthy Baby Girl

Organ Harvesting Before “Brain-Death” Increasingly Common


Surgical Preparation For Organ Donation For Non-Brain Dead Patients?

New study questions “brain-death” criterion for organ donation

See related media coverage:

Brain Dead Woman Gives Birth


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