Organ donation is personal, not political

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The donation of organs for transplants is an area where passions run high; no one disputes this. And after the scandals at Alder Hey and other hospitals, where organs were removed from deceased children over many years without their parents' permission, it is an area of great political sensitivity, too.

The donation of organs for transplants is an area where passions run high; no one disputes this. And after the scandals at Alder Hey and other hospitals, where organs were removed from deceased children over many years without their parents' permission, it is an area of great political sensitivity, too.

But this is no reason for the Government to run scared of legislation that would potentially help a great many people. The Bill, introduced by a Liberal Democrat backbencher, Evan Harris, would replace the current organ donation card that people carry voluntarily with a system of "opting out". The assumption would then be that anyone who had not opted out could be deemed to have given approval. In countries where such a system has been introduced, the number of organs available for transplant has greatly increased.

Reversing the current "opt in" system to one of "opting out" has other advantages, beyond simply increasing supply. It relieves doctors of the burden of having to ask family members, who may be distressed, whether the organs of the deceased may be removed. It also relieves families of having to agonise at a highly stressful time about what they, or the dead person, would have wanted.

Liberal Democrat and Tory MPs are being given a free vote on the Bill when it comes before the House on Monday. Labour MPs, however, are to be whipped into the "no" lobby - a decision which means that the Bill faces almost certain defeat. The Government justifies its stance by saying that the money to introduce such a system is lacking. But it is hard to see how, in the first instance, anything more than printed cards would be needed - something that voluntary groups would probably be happy to fund. Dr Harris compares the Government's attitude to saying, "We have got a gold mine, but we are not going to do anything because we can't afford a shovel."

He is right. The Government's decision to whip Labour MPs into voting against a Bill that could ensure a supply of many more donor organs smacks of political cowardice, and is little short of scandalous. If ever there was an issue on which MPs should vote according to conscience, this was it.

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