Joint Committee On Human Rights Twenty-Sixth Report

7. Letter from Tom Watson MP to the Chairman


Thank you very much for your letter regarding the Organ Donation (Presumed Consent and Safeguards) Bill.

I was interested to read the questions that the Committee has raised about the Bill. I hope that this letter, which I have written after consultation with the British Medical Association, answers your questions.

In question (a) you asked whether the Bill should require the independence of the two medical practitioners who have to certify death. Current practice is that the two registered medical practitioners certifying that death has occurred should be independent from members of the transplant team. This practice is specified in a code of practice, but I see no problem in this provision being included in primary legislation.

It may be appropriate for the doctors undertaking brain stem death to record their conclusions on a specified form. However, I would not want to see an onerous procedure in place that might deter people from undertaking such tests, thus reducing the number of donors.

Question (b) asked whether Parliament should retain ultimate responsibility for approving the criteria to govern brain stem tests. At present, the criteria governing brain stem tests are contained in a code of practice produced by the Conference of Medical Royal Colleges. This code is agreed widely and is followed universally. I fell that it is not appropriate to include the code in primary legislation. The code is a set of clinical tests, devised by clinicians with the relevant expertise and knowledge.

I appreciate that, however eminent a body the Conference of Medical Royal Colleges is, it is not accountable to Parliament. It may therefore be appropriate to propose that the primary legislation contains reference to a code of practice approved by the Secretary of State.

If you require clarification of any of these points, or have any further questions about the Bill, please do not hesitate to contact me. In the meantime, may I thank you for taking the time to scrutinise my Bill.

26 September 2002

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