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The UK Human Tissue Act and consent: surrendering a fundamental principle to transplantation needs?
  1. M D D Bell
  1. Correspondence to:
 M D Dominic Bell
 MPhil, MB, ChB, FRCA, Consultant in Intensive Care, The General Infirmary at Leeds, Great George Street, Leeds, LS1 3EX, UK; dominic.bell{at}

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Legislation that authorises controversial organ procurement strategies but ignores respect for autonomy is flawed in principle and predictably unworkable in practice

The UK Human Tissue Act 2004,1 designed to regulate all activity involving human tissue, organs, or bodies, was introduced in the House of Commons in December 2003, received Royal Assent on 15 November 2004,2 and has been partially implemented by Commencement Orders from April 2005. The new act, which repeals and replaces the Human Tissue Act 1961, the Anatomy Act 1984, and the Human Organ Transplants Act 1989, has its origins in events of serious public concern, namely the retained organs scandals at Bristol Royal Infirmary3 and the Royal Liverpool Childrens’ Hospital.4 The act is correspondingly dominated by regulation of postmortem examinations and retention of human tissue, with consistent emphasis on the need for fully informed consent. Compliance with these requirements is now mandatory with the threat of up to three years’ imprisonment and/or fines for any deviation.

The impact of the original proposals within the bill on research and the clinical practice of pathology have been carefully considered and documented,5 with subsequent amendments to ameliorate professional concerns.6 The act, however, also carries significant implications for medical practice in areas where donor recruitment for transplantation can take place, and representations on these aspects during readings of the bill7 have produced neither clarification, justification, nor amendment within the final legislation.

Section 43 will make it lawful for hospital authorities “to take steps for the purpose of preserving the part for use for transplantation and to retain the body for that purpose”. The original explanatory notes for the bill8 while it proceeded through parliament implied that such action, prior to consent to transplantation being sought, was then lawful, clause 44 as section 43 …

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