HC Deb 01 May 1974 vol 872 cc1162-4

4.5 p.m.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to allow hospitals to take the organs, such as kidneys, of any patient, once clinical death has been established, other than those of a deceased person who has contracted out during his lifetime by registering, on a central computer, his desire not to donate organs. If for the fourth time in four years and the second time in three months I seek to take the prime time of the House in introducing a Ten Minutes Rule Bill on the transplant of human organs it is because we must face the kind of harrowing situation that many hon. Members have faced in their constituency business.

Briefly, it boils down to the kind of case that we have all had, where because of a shortage of matching tissue, particularly kidneys, some young or middle-aged person who would be alive today is not alive. Some of us had hoped that the kidney donor card scheme which was introduced by the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) would be a success. But the reality of the situation is that very few organs have been forthcoming under that scheme, and for a very understandable reason. Most of us think that accidents are things that happen not to us but to other people. Therefore, we do not bother to carry with us the donor cards. It is no great surprise, as the right hon. Gentleman was warned by more expert authorities than I, that the organs have not been forthcoming in the quantities that were needed.

There is a further complication that is known to many hon. Members. It is that in coroners' courts there is very grave doubt whether a kidney card is legal in relation to the wishes of the relatives of a victim who has been killed in a road crash or elsewhere. Therefore, there is scope for a change of the law in relation to coroners' courts, because there are many coroners who, understandably, in order to protect themselves and their court, will not allow hospitals to take out organs, at any rate within the time before deterioration sets in.

Therefore, the guts of the Bill that I seek to introduce is to provide for a system of contracting out to allow hospitals to take after their death the organs of anyone who comes to them other than those who have taken trouble during their lifetime to register with a central computer—probably in Bristol—to the effect that they do not want their organs taken should they die suddenly or in an accident. I add in parenthesis that, because of recent publicity, many of us would like to see a system whereby clinical death is established in such circumstances not by one but by two doctors. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary at the Scottish Office, who is at present on the Government Front Bench, will know that there have been certain cases in his city of Aberdeen, a very progressive city medically, and he will know exactly why I think that the establishment of clinical death by two doctors is important.

In support of the proposition that I am putting forward, I draw the attention of hon. Members to an appalling situation that exists at present whereby a hospital has to telephone the relatives of the victim at the point of maximum grief to ask the terrible question "Can we have the organs of your loved one?" Can the House imagine what it is like for someone who has been bereaved perhaps 30 minutes previously, especially a parent, to have to answer off the cuff a "yes" or "no" question? There is a good deal of evidence that people do not give the answers that they might have given in cold blood when they were less distressed. Therefore, this is a decision which really ought to be taken in the quiet of the home rather than at a point of maximum stress.

The House may say "Is it really as necessary as all this to have these organs?" I can only go by Roy Calne, Professor of Surgery at Addenbrooke's, who says that at least 1,000 people in this country each year would have been kept alive, many of them working, had the organs been available—particularly kidneys. That is the professional opinion of the surgeon who probably does more transplants than anyone else in Britain.

Another question for the House is whether this would be acceptable to public opinion. In West Lothian, which is a typical industrial area in the north of our country, in 1969 I conducted a very detailed survey for the late Richard Crossman, whose PPS I was, visiting 1,000 homes. From that survey it was clear that 364 out of the 1,000 would go for a system of contracting out; 312 would have preferred a volunteering system; but only 108 were totally against it. Perhaps the small figure of the total against it is accounted for by the fact that many of us know that should it be our family involved, our son or daughter whose life was to be saved, we would certainly accept someone else's kidney or someone else's blood. Therefore, I think that public opinion has moved on since 1969. There is a good deal of evidence in that direction. I ask hon. Members to consider what can be done.

Finally, it may be asked "Is it an abuse to introduce a Ten Minutes Rule Bill on 1st May when one knows very well that the Session of Parliament will probably come to an end in July or October? Here I say only that Lord Platt, one of the most distinguished surgeons in this country, will be moving in the other place a Bill in similar terms. We do not expect the Government to wave some magic wand to give time at this point in the Session of Parliament for such a Bill, but the hope is that they will study the proposals, which are very well known to the Department, and study Lord Platt's Bill, and perhaps in November either introduce Government legislation or give time for Private Member's legislation to come to grips with a subject which is not of world-wide or universal significance but nevertheless affects many families in our country very deeply.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Tam Dalyell, Mr. E. S. Bishop, Miss Betty Boothroyd, Mr. Lewis Carter-Jones, Dr. John Cunningham, Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody, Mr. A. E. P. Duffy, Dr. J. Dickson Mabon, Dr. M. S. Miller, Mr. Terry Walker, Mr. Brian Walden.