HEALTH – HUMAN TISSUE BILL – 28 June 2004

Dr Julian Lewis: I have been listening to what the hon. Gentleman [Howard Stoate] has been saying with a lot of sympathy. Over the years, I have carried various donor cards, which became increasingly dog-eared and were eventually discarded. Also, at various times, I have signed various forms. Why, in the 21st century, when we know so much about network databases, does it still seem unclear to at least one Member of Parliament whether there is a national database, which, if people signed up to just once to give their organs, could put an end to the matter and save an awful lot of distressing questions and answers?

[Dr Stoate: The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting point: there is a national database, which I gather is based in Bristol, but it is not well publicised. That is the problem – the public do not know of its existence.]

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Dr Lewis: Before my hon. Friend [Desmond Swayne] finishes his speech, may I say that if there is a Division on new Clause 1 [on presumed consent for organ donation], he and I will find ourselves in opposing Lobbies for the first time in the seven years that we have both been in the House? There is no reason, however, why someone with my views cannot totally support what he says about New Clause 5. The question of keeping organs in a fit state to be transplanted, once the necessary consents have been obtained, is entirely separate from the question of presumed consent. I assume that he would accept that.

[Mr Swayne: My hon. Friend is right that I differ from his judgment on anything only rarely. We will certainly be in different Lobbies tonight, but I entirely accept what he said in his words of support for New Clause 5.]

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[Ian Lucas: … What disturbs me most is the provision in new Clause 3(5), according to which someone in authority has the power to make a judgment about individuals who have just been bereaved. The person in authority has the right to assess whether a particular individual is suffering "significant distress" – not "distress", but "significant distress" ... ]

Dr Lewis: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there are further complications on that point? What if people have religious objections to their relatives' organs being used in that way? Would such objections be regarded as "significant distress"? What about the Muslim community, Jehovah's Witnesses or people who belong to minority groups, for example? Would the distress caused by offending religious beliefs be "significant" enough to overrule people's views?

[Ian Lucas: The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. As a lawyer, the words "significant distress" immediately rang my alarm bells. I can see applications for injunctions being made, and litigation becoming rampant in this field. Judges could be called out of bed at all hours to take life-or-death decisions, which would make the process of bereavement even more painful than it is now.]