|Matthew Offord MP
"I congratulate Mr Robinson on promoting the Bill, and I know that it will make progress today. As many people have said, 80% of British society support organ donation, but 20% do not. I want to speak on behalf of that 20% to ensure that they are carried along with the debate, rather than left behind.
A gentleman in my constituency, Vijay Patel (editor note - This link is for the wrong Vijay Patel), was recently unnecessarily killed, and his family took great comfort from the fact that his organs were used to help other people. For me, that is such a gift, and I commend anyone who donates, and their families, for allowing the donation to take place. Many people prepare themselves to be organ donors after they die, and their families are an integral part of that process. Within that wider framework, the crucial role of the donor’s family must be understood, because their role regarding the ownership of the body after a person dies, and their duties towards it, is a central aspect of the grieving process.
There has recently been a lot of concern about a north London coroner who refused to release bodies, which is causing a great deal of concern to my constituents. It therefore follows logically that the family must be involved in organ donation, and I believe that their consent is paramount at the crucial time. Those families need reassurance along their pathway towards consent.
It has been said that there are religious differences on donation, but that is incorrect. Both Islam and Judaism allow organ transplants from live and deceased patients in order to continue and save lives. One factor that perhaps some are not aware of, and that might influence the decision-making process of some families, is how the point of death is decided. Some people regard death as defined by cardiovascular criteria, which is when the heart ceases to function. Others use cessation of brain function—brain stem death—as their criterion. Those two distinctions sometimes make people uncomfortable with donation.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recognised both definitions of death when it formulated the NICE guidelines that explain how healthcare professionals should support a bereaved family when discussing organ donation. There is one pathway for those who accept only cardiovascular death, and another for those who accept brain stem death. As a result, families are helped to understand how they might be able to combine deceased organ donation in a way that does not interfere with some religious traditions.
Enabling someone accessible to guide a family through the donation process is a humane, sensible and constructive proposal. A properly trained and resourced transplant co-ordinator should be able to do that, as it is the most important way in which families can be supported at a terrible time in their lives. In practice, however, under the system proposed, there would be less institutional incentive for health services to employ such people.
The Government are aware of the issues around transplantation, and they cannot plead ignorance in that our religious communities are being unresponsive to human need. In 2013, leading Muslim and Jewish groups wrote jointly to the Government suggesting a way forward in which an enhanced and improved opt-in system could be introduced that would alleviate their concerns. Improvements would include a Government-backed statement that Jews and Muslims could sign, which would enable them to donate organs in a manner compatible with their beliefs. If that approach were to be adopted, it would enable the two communities to be even more supportive of an opt-in system than they have been in the past. That proposal has been raised on several occasions, but I am afraid it has been ignored. The hon. Member for Coventry North West mentioned former Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks, who he said opposed such measures. As I understand it, however, the current Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Mirvis, is in favour of the proposal I have just outlined.
Life, and indeed death, has changed for many people. More people want, understandably, to spend their final months at home. If they die at home, organ donation is much less likely. Healthcare professionals who need to secure consent for donation must have a conversation with organ donors, and their loved ones, about why they are best placed to give the gift of life if they remain in hospital. That conversation is a natural feature of an opt-in service. Under an opt-out service, there will be little incentive to have that complex discussion with potential donors and their families. The result could be that patients might drift to spend their last months in hospital."