Letter: Donor card 'default' and 'deception'

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The Independent Online
Sir: I write in support of Dr Hill (letter, 19 August), who is concerned that the proposal to set up a national computer register of those prepared to be used as organ donors if declared 'brain dead' will, if implemented, lead to coercion by default and deceit.

The donor card is a deception. The wording on it has led many to sign it in the mistaken belief that they would be truly dead, in the commonly understood sense of the term, before their organs were removed. Even senior academics have been under the misapprehension that the ventilator would be turned off, and the heartbeat allowed to stop, before evisceration commenced.

When convinced that, in fact, ventilation would be continued and the heart would continue to beat naturally right through the surgical procedure (maintaining the blood circulation around the body and to those parts of the brain which are still alive) they have torn up their donor cards.

The notion that 'brain stem death' is death is based on bad, simplistic, science. As a lasting concept, it is inevitably doomed, but attempts to foist it upon the public (and, indeed, upon the younger members of the medical profession) presently continue, despite accumulating evidence that there is enough life left in the brains of donors for there to be a possibility that they may experience distress during organ removal. For this reason, some anaesthetists give general anaesthesia as well as the muscle- paralysing drugs routinely used.

Many of us have experienced problems with computer databases, and it is all too easy to envisage the possibility of incorrect entry. There could be still greater problems in getting one's name removed from the database if, having registered consent, one subsequently changed one's mind - perhaps after finding out the relevant facts.

Yours faithfully,



20 August

The writer is a retired consultant cardiologist.