30 November 2005

S2M-3627 Human Tissue (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 30 November 2005

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 14:30]

… … …

Human Tissue (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-3627, in the name of Andy Kerr, on the general principles of the Human Tissue (Scotland) Bill.


… … …


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): It is worth stating the obvious: attitudes to this subject vary both within families and beyond. One side of my family has an entirely different attitude to this from the other. One of my relatives opted for medical research. The post-mortem cadaver went to four different locations for four different sets of students. That person's spouse expressed a similar wish later in life although, for a variety of reasons, we were unable to deliver on those wishes.

However, someone on the other side of my family, although being a recipient of organ donation—in this case a cornea, which is not quite what we are talking about—had an instinctive revulsion to their remains being used post mortem for the benefit of others. We have to recognise and understand people's views. In considering the subject further, we have to accommodate that diversity of views while ensuring that we educate people and talk to them before difficult decisions have to be made. We must also do that in the hope of persuading more people to support others post mortem.

All the Scottish National Party members have donor cards or have registered to say that our organs can be used post mortem. From the speeches of other members, it appears that that is broadly the case for them too. Curiously enough—and I hope that my party leader will forgive me for saying this—the one good argument for identification cards is that such information could be carried on them. It is a matter of regret that the Identity Cards Bill specifically excludes carrying medical information on ID cards. The minister might bring that up with colleagues south of the border the next time he is talking to them. That is not a commitment to supporting ID cards—

Carolyn Leckie: Will SNP MPs move an amendment to that effect?

Stewart Stevenson: I rather doubt it. I am expressing an entirely personal opinion, as indeed I said at the outset. I only expressed the view that it is passing strange that medical information is excluded.

It is important that we have mechanisms to allow us to understand people's views at a point when we can no longer ask them. Of course, family and loved ones have a role, but we must put the interests of the person who has died at the core.

Children are quite capable of making informed decisions on this matter. I am sure that, as the bill proceeds, that will continue to be debated. I am not certain that people with incapacities should automatically be ruled out. For example, people with a degree of mental incapacity or learning difficulties are on the electoral register and make decisions about which of us come here and go elsewhere. Are we to deny people with that sort of influence the right to say in an informed way what should happen to their body parts post mortem? Questions remain, as it is difficult to find the right dividing line.

There will be challenges in years to come that we are not ready to incorporate in the bill. As medical technology progresses, we will increasingly be able to retain all the bodily functions of life beyond the point of death. The blurring of that distinction between life and death already challenges the work that is done in intensive care units, where people are on life-support systems. That distinction will become even more challenging in future. Indeed, there will be even more debate over the question whether it is morally, ethically and societally proper to keep the body functioning in order to preserve organs against the possibility that they might be of value.

At this stage, we cannot anticipate some future difficulties. Interestingly, when organ donations first began, no one could have conceived of the now relatively common beating-heart donation.

On organ trafficking, I have looked at section 17 and read what the committee report has to say on the subject. I am not certain of the bill's approach to the cost of providing organs—as distinct from the buying and selling of organs—particularly with regard to the substantial costs that are associated with the international movement of organs. Of course, need and the ability to donate recognise no international boundaries, and we do not want to do anything that might make things more difficult.

Several members referred to domino transplants. Again, as medical technology is likely to increase the opportunities for and the number of such transplants and to affect their character, we should be careful not to do anything in the bill that might make it difficult to carry them out in future. That said, we cannot foresee the future entirely.

In paragraphs 48, 84 and 98, the committee recommends that the Executive advertise the changes in the bill and inform the public, especially decision makers who might be asked for consent post mortem, of the implications. As members know, I am not a great advocate of Executive advertising, but perhaps just this once I might generously suggest that the Executive should advertise.

Before concluding, I take slight issue with the earlier suggestion that there is a social divide in this matter and that more articulate people are likely to donate organs. I happen to think that people of every social class and educational background are perfectly capable of making proper decisions on this matter and we do no one in our society any favours by denigrating that ability.

One thing that we can be certain of is that we are all born to die. The Parliament will do a noble thing if it creates an opportunity for the dead to contribute to the lives of those who follow them. However, we commit evil if we presume to know the views of the dead. As the bill progresses through Parliament, striking the correct balance will be the challenge for the Executive—and, indeed, for all of us.


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