HC Deb 23 October 1979 vol 972 cc217-9

4.13 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 life-time by registering, on a central computer, his desire not to donate organs. This Ten-Minute Bill seeks to amend the Human Tissue Act to allow hospital authorities, once clinical death has been established by two doctors, to remove kidneys from any person other than those who have contracted out through a central computer during their lifetime.

This is the seventh occasion on which my sponsors and I have put forward a contracting-out Bill, and I candidly say to the House that the sponsors of this Bill and myself would fully agree that kidney donation on a voluntary basis would be preferable to the contracting-out scheme, if voluntary donation had succeeded in producing anything like the number of kidneys needed. The bleak truth is that the kidney donor card scheme, put forward with the best of intentions by the present Secretary of State for Industry when he was Secretary of State for Social Services in the early 1970s, has not worked and has fallen painfully short of expectations.

Nor is the disappointment surprising, for a very basic human reason. Accidents are things that occur to other people. At least, if an accident is going to happen to me, it will not be today. Few of us concern ourselves with the possibility of our own demise tonight. Therefore, we should not be astonished to find that the Marplan inquiry, made for the Department of Health and Social Security, entitled "Public Attitude to Kidney Donation", states that at most 5 per cent. of the population carries donor cards.

In the same breath as I mention that survey, I should concede—as the Minister knows well—that the general findings do not suit the case which the contractors-out are deploying. In response, we challenge the whole basis of the survey for a number of reasons, and I give just two examples.

On page 10, it is revealed that Marplan spatchcocked all sorts of other issues into the kidney donation survey, such as attitudes to prison visiting and to voluntary work with the mentally handicapped. This is an assault on the spirit of the undertaking given on 3 March 1978, when I initiated a Friday debate on the whole issue of transplant law.

In paragraph 4, Marplan undermines the authority of its report because it states: Additionally when specifically told about the current shortage of kidneys, respondents tended to claim this would increase their inclination to donate. Similarly, when told about the current shortage of kidney machines, and of the disadvantages to the patient of this form of treatment, compared with a transplant, respondents attitudes towards donation tended to become more favourable. In other words, when people are brought face to face with the realities of kidney shortage, their attitudes change.

The gut realities are, first, that many people, with potentially useful working lives, die because of shortage of matching tissue. Besides that, as Harry Thomas, of the National Federation of Kidney Patient Associations puts it: A plentiful supply of kidneys means not only more transplants, but better transplants, because the more kidneys there are available, the better the chance of a good match. Secondly, many others have endured the draining agony of renal dialysis, often with consequential family misery, and always at £5,000 per machine with £14,000 per year for running costs. This all comes from the finite resources of the National Health Service.

Thirdly, since the deterioration of kidneys sets in 30 minutes after death and no kidney is of use one hour after death, immediate decisions have to be made.

Can any hon. Member present imagine himself or herself in the position of a doctor contacting, usually by phone, the shattered parents of a lad killed in a motor cycle accident to ask "Can we have your boy's kidneys?" Can we imagine that situation when the Mum or Dad has been told of the bolt-from-the-blue tragedy a minute earlier? Most of us could not bring ourselves to do it. That is why decisions about donations should not be made at the moment of maximum grief, and partly the reason why hon. Members should allow my sponsors and me an opportunity under the Ten Minutes Rule procedure.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Tam Dalyell, Mr. Jack Ashley, Mr. Lewis Carter-Jones, Mr. Dennis Canavan, Dr. John Cunningham, Mr. A. E. P. Duffy, Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody, Mr. Peter Hardy, Dr. J. Dickson Mabon, Dr. M. S. Miller, Mr. Laurie Pavitt and Mr. Phillip Whitehead.