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Organ procurement: dead interests, living needs
  1. John Harris
  1. Institute of Medicine, Law and Bioethics, School of Law, University of Manchester, Manchester M13 9PL, UK;

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    Cadaver organs should be automatically available

    The shortage of donor organs and tissue for transplantation constitutes an acute emergency which demands radical rethinking of our policies and radical measures. While estimates vary and are difficult to arrive at there is no doubt that the donor organ shortage costs literally hundreds of thousands of lives every year. “In the world as a whole there are an estimated 700 000 patients on dialysis . . .. In India alone 100 000 new patients present with kidney failure each year” (few if any of whom are on dialysis and only 3000 of whom will receive transplants). Almost “three million Americans suffer from congestive heart failure . . . deaths related to this condition are estimated at 250 000 each year . . . 27 000 patients die annually from liver disease . . .. In Western Europe as a whole 40 000 patients await a kidney but only . . . 10 000 kidneys”1 become available. Nobody knows how many people fail to make it onto the waiting lists and fail to register in the statistics. “As of 24th November 2002 in the United Kingdom 667 people have donated organs, 2055 people have received transplants, and 5615 people are still awaiting transplants.”2

    Conscious of the terrible and unnecessary tragedy that figures like these represent I have been advocating for more than 20 years now some radical measures to stem this appalling waste of human life. The measure which is the subject of Hamer and Rivlin’s paper (p 196)3 concerns the automatic availability of all cadaver organs—a measure, which I first advocated publicly in 1983.4


    We need to begin by being clear about just what it is I propose and why. At the moment in the United Kingdom we …

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