Labour MPs are told to oppose plan for more organ donors

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Ministers were accused of "control freakery" yesterday after Labour MPs were ordered to vote down an attempt to increase the number of donated organs available for transplant.

Ministers were accused of "control freakery" yesterday after Labour MPs were ordered to vote down an attempt to increase the number of donated organs available for transplant.

Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have offered a free vote on proposals to replace the current system of organ donor cards with an "opt-out" which assumes organs can be used unless a dead person has ruled out donating part of their body. But Labour MPs have been instructed to vote against the measure next week.

Ministers insist that a move to so-called "presumed consent" would not increase the supply of organ donors, arguing that appointing specialist staff to liaise with families of victims is a better way of persuading more people to donate organs.

Evan Harris, a former health spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, proposed the change in an amendment to the Human Tissue Bill, which is due to pass its final stages next week.

Dr Harris, who has promoted a private member's Bill on the issue, condemned the decision in the House of Commons yesterday, saying that many Labour supporters of the change would be forced to vote against their wishes.

Dr Harris told MPs: "This is a true conscience issue. It is a matter of life and death of people who are on transplant waiting lists. Whichever side one is on, there are strongly held views.

"What possible justification can there be for the Government to impose a three-line whip and force scores of people in the Labour Party to go back on how they voted when this came through as a private member's Bill?

"Is it because the Government is worried about losing the argument, cannot have an argument to make, or is it simple and pure control freakery?"

Peter Hain, the Leader of the Commons, said: "Can I just emphasise that government policy remains that presumed consent has no place in this Bill."

Stephen Pound, Labour MP for Ealing North, revealed that the party's MPs had been told they will be whipped into the "no" lobby on Monday. Mr Pound said: "Last month my 33- year-old brother died. He didn't have an organ donor card, he simply thought he was immortal, like most young people, and it seems to be an absolute tragedy that the potential for saving lives is there and yet we cannot actually put together demand and supply in this way."

He said: "I had a brief discussion with the whips yesterday and it will be a whipped vote. I understand their argument is that there are financial constraints. They are saying we haven't got the money for the infrastructure to deal with it. It is like saying we have got a gold mine but we are not going to do anything because we can't afford a shovel. I think it is frankly ridiculous. It seems to me a crying shame, a tragedy, that the potential for saving lives is there and yet we can't bring together demand and supply. This really is a conscience issue and it shouldn't be a whipped vote."

The Health minister, Rosie Winterton, said: "There is no evidence that a policy of presumed consent increases the number of organs for transplantation."

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