HL Deb 27 May 1952 vol 176 cc1465-9

3.22 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. It has already been passed in another place and supported there by members of all Parties, including two former Ministers of Health. It may be accurately described as an all-Party measure. The cornea is a glass-like window which covers the coloured part of the eye. Most of us take it for granted, but in some people, as the result either of disease or of accident, the clear cornea of the normal eye is replaced by an opaque tissue, so that the eye is blind. This form of blindness can be cured and the sight restored if it is possible to get the cornea from another human eye which can be grafted on to the blind eye. But in present circumstances it is only in exceptional instances that such corneas are available.

In other countries at the present time corneas are taken from dead bodies, but under the law as it stands at present in this country that is not allowed. The Anatomy Act allows post-mortems to be made and bodies to be used for scientific purposes. It is essential to medical education that this should be done. But the Act does not allow the eye to be used in the way I describe. As the law stands at present, even if an individual leaves his eyes to be used for the purpose of restoring sight to the blind, this cannot be done. The purpose of this Bill is to allow the eyes of the dead to be used for this beneficent purpose. It is a use which has already been made of eyes of the dead in other countries, including France, Spain and South Africa. I hope that your Lordships will agree to give this Bill a Second Reading, so that hope and light may be offered to those who at present live in darkness.

3.25 p.m.


My Lords, it is a great pleasure to me, particularly after speaking from this Box on the last Bill on this subject—namely, the National Health Service Bill, on which we ranged in battle from the procedure of this House to what was good for our health—to be wholeheartedly in support of the Bill the Second Reading of which has been moved to-day by the noble Lord, Lord Haden-Guest. It is also a great pleasure to me to congratulate him and the honourable Members of another place who were responsible for the Bill. This is more than an all-Party Bill; it is an all-citizens' Bill, a Bill to produce something which will be a great asset, and a growing asset as the matter develops, to all those who suffer from this form of blindness and who will be helped by this operation. I do not think it is cadging interest for the Government, if I may so express it, when I place on record that the Ministry gave all assistance to the honourable Member in another place who introduced this Bill, and also helped with its drafting. I should like to give my own personal support and concurrence to this measure. If I can help in any way, in anything which may crop up between now and the finalisation of the Bill, I shall be only too pleased to do so. I am only too delighted that both laymen and doctors seem to be at one with the politicians and all types of citizens in the unanimous welcome for this Bill.

3.27 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to prove that in the profession of medicine there is unanimity in this House to-day—that is to say, among qualified doctors. I also wish to emphasise to your Lordships that the need for this Bill is very great. I believe that the need will be a diminishing one, for the control of diseases which lead to blindness owing to the production of opacity of the front window of the eye is becoming firmer and firmer every year. I want it to be realised that the need is not confined to this country. It is even greater in countries which depend on Britain for guidance in medical matters, and often for medical service—those Colonies for which Britain has assumed some responsibility, although they may not actually be Dependencies. The need in these Colonies can be counted in thousands. There are in the Middle East thousands of cases of trachoma which lead to complete opacity of the front window of the eye. That opacity is remedied by grafting in again a clear window. I think it would be a failure on my part if I did not inform your Lordships that this wonderful advance in therapeutics is mainly due to research by British ophthalmologists. I might almost go so far as to say that the pioneer work was entirely due to the labours of British research workers and ophthalmologists. I have the greatest pleasure in supporting the Bill.

3.29 p.m.


My Lords, while fully in support of this measure—I think the whole House is in support of it—I should like to raise one small drafting point. Clause 1 says: If any person, either in writing at any time or orally … during his last illness, has expressed a request that his eyes be used for therapeutic purposes … and so on. The ordinary person would say, "I should like my eyes to be used to help some blind person." It would only be the noble Lords, Lord Haden-Guest and Webb-Johnson, and other members of their profession, who would say, "for therapeutic purposes." I wonder whether these words are apt to deal with all the cases which might arise. Do they cover the cases of people who wish to have their eyes used for this purpose when they are dead but who will certainly not express this request in the words we find in the clause as drafted?

3.30 p.m.


My Lords, I also have two small drafting points to submit to my noble friend, Lord Haden-Guest, and one other point, which I hope he will consider before the next stage of the Bill. The first drafting point refers to the words "in writing" in subsection (1) of Clause 1. I wonder whether that is specific enough. I suppose "in writing" covers typewriting; but I do not know whether it means a typewriten document signed, or with a typewritten signature. In the interests of the Bill, it might be worth while looking into that point before the next stage. The second drafting point is even less important. In reading the Bill I should have found it easier to apprehend the meaning instantaneously in line 20, on page 2, had it read: … as rendering unlawful any dealing with the body or any part of the body, thus repeating the words "the body." It may be my stupidity but I suggest that may be important. The third point is rather different. Possibly I shall not receive an answer to-day, but I should like it to be considered. I note that in Clause 1 (8) the position of the procurator fiscal is guarded in Scotland. It is not entirely unknown for a person who has executors to be murdered in England. I should like to know whether, under this Bill, there will be a conflict of rights between the coroner and the person entitled to the eyes at the wish of the deceased. That is all I have to say on the Bill, and I wish the noble Lord great speed and success in getting it passed into law.

3.33 p.m.


My Lords, it may be appropriate if I say a few words on this Bill, speaking as a person who might have a direct personal interest in its passing, due to having a defective cornea in one eye. It will be gratifying to a great many people that this Bill is passing with such unanimous approval. It will gratify not only thousands of people who have defective vision, or who are completely blind, but also many well-intentioned people who would like to leave their eyes for the benefit of other people. I know of elderly people who have long had the wish that their eyes should be used for this purpose. I should like to support my noble friend in this Bill.

3.34 p.m.


My Lords, I am glad that this Bill has received such a welcome on all sides of the House. With regard to the point raised by Lord Llewellin, as to the words "therapeutic purposes," he will no doubt have noticed that the noble Lord opposite said that the Ministry of Health had taken part in drafting this Bill. I have no doubt that these words were carefully considered. However, I will look into the matter to see whether any adjustment is necessary. The same observation applies to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, with regard to the words "in writing"; and to his further point as to the grammar in subsection (7). With regard to the question of the coroner in England, and the person who is murdered, I am afraid that someone who was murdered would be excluded for another reason: that it would not, presumably, be possible to use the eyes, in any event, in the short interval of time after death. For that reason, I am afraid that it would be impossible to use his eyes. I am to have had the support of my noble friend Lord Lucan and his assurance that many people will be willing to leave their eyes. I think this will be a reform of the greatest benefit in this country, and I hope, as has already been suggested, that it will give a lead to the Commonwealth arid the Colonial Possessions overseas.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.