Government orders its MPs to reject organs plan

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A change in the law on organ donation that could save hundreds of lives was last night being resisted by the Government, despite backing from MPs of all parties. A coalition of MPs is pressing ministers to increase the number of organs for transplant by changing the rules on consent for donors.

An amendment to the Human Tissue Bill, by Evan Harris, a former Liberal Democrat Health spokesman, would change the law so all organs would be available for transplant when people die, unless they had formally requested to "opt out" of being a donor.

Campaigners say the number of organs from the card system is inadequate, and hundreds of people waiting for a transplant die needlessly. But the Government has instructed Labour MPs to vote against the measure, saying it would not increase the number of organs. Tories and Liberal Democrats allowed their MPs a free vote.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said "presumed consent" raised questions about individual liberties and interference by the state. He said the system had been abandoned in France after a girl's corneas were removed without her parents' permission. John Reid, the Secretary of State for Health, said it was wrong to presume "the body belongs to the state after death".

Dr Harris said evidence showed it did increase organ donation rates. He said: "[The present system] isn't working, we have an alternative and at least the Government should be calling for a public debate."