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Human Organs (Anonymity Of Donors)

Volume 980: debated on Wednesday 5 March 1980

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4.5 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for protection of the identity of donors of human organs.
My reason for rising to present this Bill to the House is to respond to a request from one of my constituents whose daughter was recently tragically killed. After her death my constituent and his family underwent what can only be described as persecution by the media in a most improper way during their time of sorrow.

My constituent is Mr. George Morris, who lives at Houghton on the Hill, in Leicestershire—a fairly small community of 300 houses. He has formally complained to the Press Council, as indeed I have complained, about the activities of the media in general and about certain newspapers in particular following the death of his daughter Carol in a motor accident. Mr. Morris' daughter died on the night of 28 January and on the 1 o'clock news on 29 January it was reported that a heart transplant operation had taken place at Papworth hospital and that the family of the donor particularly wished to remain anonymous.

Mr. Morris tells me that a leak occurred and within three or four hours the Evening News telephoned requesting information. The Morris' telephone rang continually as one newspaper after another requested information, until 5 pm, when the family took the telephone off the hook.

However, that did not alleviate the position. The newspapers that had been told by telephone that the family were not prepared to comment sent reporters to the door. To add insult to injury, most reporters attempted to obtain additional information and a photograph of the dead girl from the villagers, despite the family's request for anonymity.

Mr. Morris cites particular newspapers, such as the Daily Mail, which behaved especially badly. That newspaper telephoned him and also his next-door neighbour, Mr. Stephen Turnbull, giving the impression that they were friends of the family requesting information. After an inquiry about the donor card the callers admitted that they were from the Daily Mail in London. That is a despicable way of obtaining information.

The Daily Mail sank even lower on the following day. A female reporter waited near Mr. Morris' house from 10 am on 30 January until 6 pm. The reporter, Miss Sally Brompton, canvassed the village from door to door in an attempt to buy a photograph of Mr. Morris' daughter Carol. According to Mr. Morris, Miss Brompton even attempted to persuade a 14-year-old girl to go into her elder sister's bedroom to remove a photograph of Carol. At about 6 pm Miss Brompton left a card with Mr Morris requesting an interview at a later date.

By 10 am on Wednesday 30 January the problems caused to the family by the media had necessitated police protection for Mr. Morris, who lives in Weir Lane. Policemen were posted there and his telephone was made indefinitely ex-directory.

Mr. Morris has asked me to make it clear that very few newspapers acted in a professional manner, but that there were two exceptions. Two newspapers possessed photographs of Carol, which the rest of the newspapers were attempting to obtain. One of the newspapers was The Guardian and the other was the local evening newspaper, the Leicester Mercury. Both newspapers, at the request of the family, decided not to publish photographs of Carol.

Mr. Morris alleges that
"the behaviour of the media caused more pain and anguish to my wife and daughter."
The newspaper reporters even had the nerve to challenge Mr. Morris when he wished to leave his house, as if he were a criminal on the run. Mr. Morris said
"If transplants are to continue donor organs are essential. Families will not consent to the use of deceased relatives' organs if the media continue to act in such a disgraceful and unsympathetic way."
If families are to be badgered in this disgraceful and unsympathetic way by the media even when requests for anonymity have been made, the source of organs for transplant will dry up. I agree with Mr. Morris, and though I am in the van of those who believe that 'v. need a free press I believe that the conduct that I have described is evil. We must therefore make it as difficult as possible for such ghouls to gain any clue as to the identity of sorrowing families.

The purpose of the Bill will be, first, to secure absolutely total anonymity at the wish of the donor. I feel that if a donor is public spirited enough to make his organs available for the use of his neighbours his wishes must be respected.

How can we secure this rightful anonymity? There are several ways in which the present system can be strengthened. I have here a copy of a code relating to the removal of organs for transplantation, produced in October last year. As it deals mainly with kidneys and other organs and makes little mention of hearts, and as it deals with the question of anonymity in a cavalier manner, I feel that it is already outdated. I believe that this code of conduct entitled "The removal of cadaveric organs for transplantation" should be strengthened and drafted in much plainer language For example, paragraph 37 of the October code says, of anonymity:
"The staff of hospitals and organ exchange organisations should always try to maintain the anonymity of the donor and of the recipient".
I do not believe that that goes far enough today. I should like to see a fresh code drawn up. Furthermore—here I pay particular tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services, who was kind enough to see me yesterday about the Bill—if reference were made to such a code in the Health Services Bill, which is now going through the House, I believe that it would give it a bit more punch, even though it would still be voluntary.

I should like to make two other suggestions. First, again in order to assist anonymity, could not all the cards of those who wish to remin anonymous have the word "anonymous" printed diagonally in large type across the top? Secondly, in these days when organs of all types are so pressingly needed, could not we have a single donor card for all organs, which would greatly simplify the system?

I have been lucky enough to secure all-party support for the Bill. Reference has been made to the Human Tissue Act 1961, the actions of certain coroners, and so on. That Act clearly lays down that coroners have the right to require consultation before organs are secured. However, I understand that most organs are obtained after telephone consultation with the coroner, which I believe is a proper and correct procedure, which does not take up very much time.

Question put and agreed to

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. John Farr, Mr. Greville Janner, Mr. Tony Marlow, Mr. Jack Ashley, Mr. R. A. McCrindle, Mr. Tam Dalyell, and Mr. Michael Hamilton.

Human Organs (Anonymity Of Donors)

Mr. John Farr accordingly presented a Bill to provide for protection of the identity of donors of human organs: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 14 March and to be printed. [Bill 160].