The NHS could ask pregnant women who are carrying babies that will not survive birth to bring the child to term so its organs may be harvested used for transplants. The proposals were brought forward at the annual meeting of the British Transplantation Society and are seen as a way to address the serious shortage of donated organs in Britain – three people a day die waiting for an organ donation. In the past two years, only 11 babies have become organ donors.
A particular disorder being considered in the proposal is anencephaly, in which a portion of the brain does not develop in the womb. Anencephaly can be detected early on the pregnancy and leaves almost no chance of the child surviving more than a few hours after birth.
Under the new proposals the number of organs taken from babies could increase to 100 a year. At the annual meeting of the British Transplantation Society, transplant surgeon, Dr Niaz Ahmad said "We are looking at rolling it out as a viable source of organ transplantation nationally… These organs can be transplanted, they work and they work long term."
Writing in the Daily Mail, Dr Joe Brierly, a consultant at Great Ormand Street Hospital, said that he welcomes "anything that improves the number of donors" before going on to say "my view is that this should not be used to persuade a woman not to undergo termination. However, if a decision is made to continue the pregnancy for other reasons, then all palliative care options – including donation – ought to be discussed."
Countering that, Dr Trevor Stammers, Director for Bioethics St Mary's University, said that the proposals were "abhorrent" and "ghoulish" and that they "can only undermine public confidence in transplantation – one the greatest medical advances of my lifetime".
NHS Blood and Transplant have set up a committee to increase donations from new-borns and appointed a lead nurse to coordinate and educate NHS staff on how to talk sensitively to parents about donation.