01 November 2012

S4M-04418 Organ Donation (Presumed Consent)

Motion debated,

That the Parliament regrets what it considers the tragic death of 43 people in Scotland last year while awaiting an organ transplant; applauds the Respect My Dying Wish campaign by NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde urging people who wish to donate their organs after death to tell their loved ones of their desire so that their wishes can be respected, and recognises calls to introduce a system of presumed consent to help save the lives of more people awaiting organ transplant.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

As other members did, I congratulate Kenny Gibson on securing this important debate.

Coming as I do from a substantially medical family, the demise of people is something to which I have been close for much of my life. The motion asks that the Parliament

“recognises calls to introduce a system of presumed consent”,

but I would go further and support a position of positive advocacy for presumed consent, coupled, of course, with respect for people who regard the remains of deceased relatives differently from the way in which I do.

Malcolm Chisholm made international comparisons, and it is important that we look further at them. One of my nieces is the transplant co-ordinator for Queensland in Australia. When my father-in-law died at a comparatively early age some 40 years ago, his entire remains were donated for medical research and the training of medical students. It was interesting that we had his funeral in the absence of a coffin, which changed the dynamic and emotional charge for all who attended, because we were in a much more positive place, thought more about my late father-in-law’s achievements and contributions, and were less fixated on his remains.

My mother-in-law, who died much later, wished the same for her, but for practical reasons we were unable to have her preserved for research within the 48-hour limit that applies, because she had the grave misfortune to die on the first day of a three-day weekend—sometimes those things happen. My wife and I have left instructions that others are to have the use of any and all our remains.

Each of us will have achievements in our lives that we can look back on with pride and, if we are lucky, others will remember them after we depart and confer on us a degree of immortality. However, how much more our contribution is when we allow someone else to live after we no longer do. Modern medical technology can keep many living beyond the point of failure of critical organs. Most of us will be familiar with kidney dialysis, but fewer will be aware of the professional, social and practical cost of living on dialysis. When a kidney failure sufferer gets a transplant, it not only prolongs their life but dynamically changes it.

The majority of people in our country die without making a will. We have substantial evidence that people are broadly reluctant to engage with the issue of their own mortality—we know that people simply like not to think about it. Like others, I think that it is time to think positively about two actions. First, we should give legal force to the deceased’s clearly expressed desire for their organs to be used after their death. We must consider making their wish in that regard paramount. After all, we can make a will about our tangible assets, so it is time to think about doing the same for our mortal remains.

Secondly, we should move to the presumption that the organs of the newly deceased may be re-used. There would have to be strong protections for those of faith or other beliefs to ensure that it is not a repugnant act for those affected. It is not a matter for hasty legislation and we would need to consult widely, but other countries have done it and we ought to be able to.

From personal experience, I know that national health service staff find it delicate and difficult to talk to people about imminent demise. We must consider training NHS staff in that regard.

As I said, other countries have moved to the presumption of organ donation and it is time for us to do likewise. The respect my dying wish campaign is absolutely excellent and, like others, I am happy to support it.


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