Last week, a British transplant surgeon stirred significant controversy and numerous ethical debates after reports surfaced that the National Health Service may have been planning to increase organ donations by encouraging mothers who were carrying babies with fatal defects to bring the baby to full term in the bid to then harvest the newborns’ organs. However, the NHS is staunchly denying any such plan.
The annual meeting of the the British Transplantation Society in Glasgow brought forth discussions from health personnel on ways to increase organ donations and it was reported that the plan the NHS had would include “supporting” mothers whose babies would be born with fatal birth defects to still go ahead and give birth. Historically, most mothers in such a devastating position would choose to terminate the pregnancy but it seems there is a chronic shortage of donated organs that could have prompted the desire to have mothers go to a full nine months so that the vital organs of these babies can be taken for transplant.
However, in response to the story originally posted in the Mail about the initiative to “support” mothers to bring terminally ill babies to full term, the NHS released a statement to the contrary on Sunday morning. The Independent writes that the spokesman for NHS Blood and Transplant has said that no member of the NHS would ever approach a parent with the discussion about organ donation instead of abortion and they would certainly not be “pressured” to do so.
“NHS Blood and Transplant wants to reassure the public that we have no way of knowing about anyone who is pregnant with a baby that is unlikely to survive. The only way we would ever find out about such babies is if a pregnant woman expressed a wish to donate the baby’s organs and they were referred to us by their clinical team because they have asked for this. We will then do what we can to support the family to do what is best for them.”
In the past the law actually banned organ transplants in children under the age of two months, but this is no longer the case as it was proven that, even for adults, a newborn’s organs can be the difference between life and death. However, in the past two years approximately 11 babies under two months old have become organ donors, but the belief exists that the figure could increase to about 100 per year if the vital organs of babies in non-survivable pregnancies were harvested.
It was at the conference that the extent of the national shortage of organs was truly revealed when this plan, described by one critic as “ghoulish” was suggested. The Daily Mail wrote that the suggestion came from NHS transplant surgeons and went on to describe how midwives and other NHS workers would take part in the initiative and be educated about the transplant potential of babies’ organs.
Transplant surgeon Niaz Ahmad, of St James’s University Hospital in Leeds, is strongly for the initiative and has stated that education is the key to its success.
“We are looking at rolling it out as a viable source of organ transplantation nationally. A number of staff in the NHS are not aware that these organs can be used. They need to be aware. These can be transplanted, they work, and they work long-term. There is a real potential for using these organs [and] we are going to discuss whether it is an option, somehow, to tell women in this situation, that organ donation is an option.”
There are currently over 7,000 people on the organ waiting list, and allegedly three of them die every day. While some doctors argue that any option which provides more organ donations is welcome others have argued about the price to our humanity if such a plan is truly undertaken.
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