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Organ Donation Rules 'Put Babies At Risk'

Study Found UK's Organ Donation Rules Limit Number Of Children That Survive Organ Failure


A new study published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood journal has concluded that organ donation rules are putting babies at risk of death.

Researchers studied national guidelines published by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and discovered that rules dictate that so-called "brainstem deaths" are not reliable enough to be counted as official.

This is despite the measure being used in many other European countries, the USA, New Zealand and Australia, as an official cause of death, which essentially means that - if a parent permits - their organs can be donated to other newborns with a better chance of survival.

Scientists found that 54 per cent of infants involved in a study that died after a neurological shutdown could have been eligible for organ donation, but rules meant they were not allowed to be considered for this procedure.

Some doctors believe that brainstem deaths are not accurate enough because neurological activity can fluctuate in young children, but more and more evidence is pointing to the fact that it is a reliable indicator.

"These results suggest a significant proportion of neonates who died in one children's hospital were potential organ donors," the study's authors stated.

"Even with a conservative conversion rate of 50 per cent, these organs would significantly increase the overall total of small-sized organs donated in the UK. This is especially important as for many potential recipients there are so few organs of this size being donated."

Neither NHS England nor the Department of Health has commented on the study yet, but it is thought any changes to the legitimacy of brainstem deaths in babies would be fiercely debated by campaigners.

However, a recent drive to improve organ donation rates across the UK, which has seen an opt-out system put in place in Wales, might mean that action is backed by senior government officials.

Babies have a substantially shorter wait for organs than their adult counterparts, but death rates remain high.

Expert Opinion
“This is a difficult and very sensitive area and one that needs to be carefully considered.

“That said, any steps that can be made to improve survival rates for babies must be investigated thoroughly, particularly as research suggests the measure is successfully used in many other countries.

“We look forward to NHS England and the Department of Health’s response and that action is taken decrease the death rates for babies needing transplants.”
Julie Lewis, Partner

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