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Health & Families

Charity calls for pacemakers to be removed from dead patients and reused

Pace4Life say thousands of the life-saving devices are thrown away each year, when they could be used to treat patients in the developing world

A British charity is calling for pacemakers to be removed from the deceased and reissued to people in developing countries, as thousands are thrown away or buried with patients in the UK.

Currently, thousands of the life-saving devices are removed from bodies about to be cremated and disposed of in order to avoid explosions, the BBC has reported, in a procedure that can be carried out by morticians at funeral homes.

British Charity Pace4Life estimate 44 per cent of pacemakers are disposed as medical waste. Eighteen per cent are donated to be reused overseas and fourteen per cent of unexplanted devices are buried with patients.

Instead, the charity is calling for these pacemakers to be removed and used to help patients suffering with heart problems.

In a study looking at the reuse of pacemakers and defibrillators, researchers found there was no literature to suggest an increased morbidity or mortality with the reuse of the devices.

Balasundaram Lavan, founder of Pace4Life, told the BBC that pacemakers being buried with patients was a waste.

"At the moment the pacemakers end up with recycling companies as medical waste, when they could be saving a life abroad", he said.

"In that situation I think our humanitarian response is at least as important as any commercial issues, and if there are such issues we need to address them and modify them so other people can benefit in developing countries."

The charity is now calling for funeral directors to follow in the footsteps of 100 funeral services across the UK which have agreed to start issuing pacemaker donation forms to bereaved families. The forms ask for permission to reuse the implants for patients in developing countries. Current EU rules stipulate that pacemakers can only be used once in the UK.

However, one major pacemaker manufacturer Medtronic has said it will not support their reuse. In a statement, they said: "(This is) to maintain a consistently high level of quality and reliability that ensure safety and efficacy for patients.

"The sterility or performance of the device cannot be guaranteed with reused devices."