HC Deb 14 May 1952 vol 500 cc1444-6

3.51 p.m.

Mr. Gerald Williams (Tonbridge)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision with respect to the use of eyes of deceased persons for therapeutic purposes. I am sure the Bill will commend itself to all parties in the House and to all hon. Members, for if it becomes the law of this country it will allow some of those who are unable to see at the present time to have their sight restored to them. I hasten at once to say that it may affect only a small percentage of those who are blind—that is, those who have actually a disease of the cornea—but if we can restore the sight of only a dozen individuals in the country, hon. Members will not have fought for the Bill in vain.

Corneal grafting was discovered in Austria in about 1900 and it has made great strides in this country, but, unfortunately, it has been hampered by lack of material, that is, lack of corneas, for grafting. It came to my knowledge only about a year ago, and since then the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. King) and I have studied the law concerning this which prevails in other countries, and we have also visited the hospital where the operation is carried out and have seen a coloured film showing all the details. After that the hon. Member for Southampton, Test, put a Motion on the Order Paper urging the Government to introduce legislation as soon as possible. This was supported by a large number of hon. Members drawn from all parts of the House.

I wish briefly to explain what corneal grafting is. The cornea is a glass-like window which covers the coloured part of the eye. If the cornea is injured, it can be replaced by the cornea from another eye, and this will enable sight to be fully restored. At the moment these corneas are taken from the eyes of living people. That is to say, if somebody has a disease of the eye other than of the cornea and the eye has to be taken out, provided that the cornea is in perfect order it can be used for grafting on to the eye of somebody who has a disease of the cornea.

I have even known living people offer their eyes for this purpose, but, of course, the surgeons will not accept them. It is far better to get the corneas from dead bodies, as is done in other countries, but our law about this is completely undefined and the only Act which can possibly govern it is the Anatomy Act, 1832. That Act allows post-mortems to be made and the body to be used for scientific purposes, but it does not allow any parts of a body to be taken away. The Act has worked very well for over 120 years, and the Bill follows it very closely but goes a little further.

The present position is that even if somebody bequeaths his eyes for this specific purpose, the eyes are not legally able to be taken for the purpose. Surely it is right, Mr. Speaker, that if you or I want to leave our eyes to restore sight to other people, we should be allowed to do so?

The Bill is short and simple. Similar Bills have been passed in South Africa, France and Spain. It seeks to do two things: first, to make it possible to bequeath eyes for this purpose, and, secondly, to allow the person in lawful possession of a body to permit the eyes to be taken provided that there is no known objection from the dead person during his lifetime or from any relatives. The number of eyes which is wanted is, of course, limited, and I hope that when the operation is better known we shall find plenty of willing donors.

I have supporting me this afternoon two ex-Ministers of Health. The late Minister has given me the help of his officials and legal advisers in drafting the Bill, and I am glad to see that the new Minister of Health is in his place at the moment. This has enabled me to bring forward a Bill which has not been hastily put together, but which has been considered from every possible angle. Surgical science is doing its job and now it is asking the legislators to help it to carry on further. I ask hon. Members to give the Bill a First Reading and thus give hope to hundreds who have been waiting in despair and enable them once more to see.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Gerald Williams, Dr. King, Mr. Assheton, Mr. Blenkinsop, Mr. Clement Davies, Mr. Elliot, Mr. Lindgren, Mr. Marquand, Mr. McCorquodale, Brigadier Medlicott, Mr. Basil Nield and Mr. Tomney.