CONSERVATIVE
New Forest East

PRESUMED CONSENT FOR ORGAN DONATION – 11 April 2000

Dr Julian Lewis: The hon. Member for Broxtowe (Dr Nick Palmer) moved the Bill in a modest and moderate way. I shall try to reply very briefly in the same spirit. He has cleverly anticipated some of the main objections that might be raised to a shift from having to opt into a transplant scheme to having to opt out of one, principally those concerning children.

We are all aware of the scandal involving the removal of children's organs for research purposes at places such as Alder Hey Children's Hospital in Liverpool, the subject of early­day motion 139 which is open for signatures and was tabled by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook and Small Heath (Roger Godsiff). That case has perhaps brought to people's attention exactly what is involved when organs are taken from dead bodies.

I personally have no objection to the use of organs for transplanting. Indeed, I have held a donor card since I was old enough to do so. However, I am very concerned about the shift in emphasis from opting into a donor scheme to opting out of one.

The hon. Gentleman's argument might be stronger if we were still talking in the terms­­ – primarily in relation to the physical carrying of a donor card – ­­in which he almost exclusively presented his Bill. The fact is that very many people who would almost certainly have no objection to their organs being used will never get around to filling in a card or, if they do, will end up leaving it at home­­ – as I myself have done on many occasions.

I should have more sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's view if it were the only way of securing a plentiful supply of organs for transplant, but it is not. We live in the age of the internet and of electronic communication. If it is as easy as he suggests for people to be advised of their right to opt out by ticking boxes on ballot papers, for example, why do we not first at least try to use those methods to ensure that more people opt in?

There are numerous opportunities for people to be asked to opt into a scheme and to have their decision registered electronically, so that, over time, if someone really wishes his or her organs to be used in that way, it could easily be arranged. People would have only to say "yes" once, and their consent would be placed on an internet site, electronically and permanently maintained up to date.

As I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would acknowledge­­ – hence the concessions that he made in framing his Bill­­ – this is not an open and shut case in which there are no arguments on one side, with all the arguments on the other. All that can be done to try to make it easy for people to register their willingness to have their organs used, should be done before we fall back on the position of very last resort­­ – that of moving to a scheme whereby consent is presumed.

Before I and many other people who have very great sympathy for what the hon. Gentleman is trying to achieve could give him our support, we would have to be convinced that ordinary people, who wish their organs to be used, have been contacted in a manner that makes it much easier than it is at present for them to register that fact.

If in five years the hon. Gentleman can demonstrate that we have all been contacted and given numerous opportunities to register in a single simple action on an electronic database our willingness to have our organs used in that way, and if he can demonstrate that there has been very little uptake of that, I will listen to his proposals with more sympathy. However, to date, those modern methods have not been tried nearly hard enough. Until they are, I should feel bound to oppose his Bill.