Dobson pledges to end transplant racism

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THE LAW will be changed if necessary to keep racism out of organ transplants, Frank Dobson, the Secretary of State for Health, said yesterday.

He pledged to prevent "apartheid in the NHS" as a government inquiry began into a "whites-only" organ donation. It was revealed that the UK Transplant Support Service Authority, which co-ordinates organ transplants, accepted a man's kidneys for transplant with the family's condition that they could be used only if they didn't go "to a coloured" person.

Mr Dobson said: "I have made my position quite clear. I haven't been an opponent of apartheid all my adult life to see it being introduced in the NHS. We will not tolerate it. It never occurred to me that a rule would be necessary to keep racism out of blood transfusions and donations.

"If it needs introducing then we will introduce it."

The donor's kidneys were removed at Northern General Hospital in Sheffield last July and used in a white patient at a hospital outside Yorkshire.

All organ donations are covered by the 1961 Human Tissue Act, and there is no legal bar for a donor or family to stipulate restrictions on their use. However, the UK Transplant Support Service Authority has a policy that organs cannot be accepted with restrictions on who can receive them. It is not unusual for a family to want to specify conditions but the regional co-ordinators of the transplant service are trained to counsel families that giving organs is an altruistic gift and no strings can be attached.

Senior surgeons said last night that the 38-year-old Actneeded updating to prevent racism creeping into the organ transplantation service. Professor Robert Sells, consultant surgeon at the Royal Liverpool Infirmary, said the Act should be overhauled to allow transplant authorities to decline organs offered with racist pre-conditions.

"What has happened in Sheffield serves to put transplant surgery and racism hand-in-hand. That is a nasty and deeply unwanted situation which right-thinking people will find repugnant," Professor Sells said.

"The law needs to be updated and one way to get around this would be to allow conditions which are motivated by goodwill, for example that the donor organ should go to a child if possible.

"However, it should also stop any conditions being imposed which are motivated by malice or racism."

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