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Medics 'should not overrule families' on organ donation

Health experts say that staff would struggle to go against family wishes on transplants.

Choice: Doctors would find it 'difficult' to force a transplant
Choice: Doctors would find it 'difficult' to force a transplant NHSBT

Healthcare professionals must not be made to force through an organ donation against the wishes of a distressed family, experts have told MSPs.

The Scottish Parliament's Heath Committee heard claims medics would be put in a "very difficult" position if there were any rules that compelled them to override the wishes of relatives.

The committee has been taking evidence on plans to introduce an opt-out system for organ donations in Scotland.

The change proposed under the Human Tissue (Authorisation) (Scotland) Bill would mean people would be assumed to have consented to their organs being used to help others unless they had signed an opt-out.

The Bill would potentially increase the number of organ transplants that can take place each year.

In an evidence session on Tuesday, SNP MSP Keith Brown sought clarity on where the rights of the person whose organs may be donated should sit in relation to the rights of the state and the rights of their own relatives.

He also later sought views on whether a so-called family veto should be written into the Bill.

Rachel Cackett, from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Scotland said: "Professionals who are doing this at a very difficult time for families are highly trained, sensitive to the conversations that they are having and have an ongoing relationship with the family.

"But we're also very clear that no practitioner should be put in the place of having to force a donation."

She added: "Certainly, our position is that if a family does not want a donation to go ahead it should not be forced."

'I don't think that we can push families into a situation where donation is forced through against their wishes'
Dr Stephen Cole

Another expert giving evidence offered a similar view.

Mary Agnew, assistant director for standards and ethics at the General Medical Council (GMC) said: "In situations of extreme distress to the family, I don't think you would want to put professionals in a position where it was felt they had to somehow override a very distressed family."

MSPs later heard it is relatively rare for families to override the donation wishes of their deceased loved one.

Lesley Logan, regional manager for organ donation at NHS Blood and Transplant, suggested such disagreement happens only around three times a year in Scotland.

Dr Stephen Cole representing the Scottish Intensive Care Society, told MSPs: "Having dealt with this on a daily and weekly basis, I would find it difficult in my profession to over-ride the wishes expressed by the relatives of those patients.

"I don't think that we can push families into a situation where donation is forced through against their wishes. I would find that a very difficult situation to be in."

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