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Britain to outlaw most private organ transplants

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LONDON (AP)   The British government said Friday that it plans to ban private organ transplants from dead donors to allay fears that prospective recipients can buy their way to the front of the line.

A government-commissioned report recommended that organs donated within the state-run National Health Service should stay within the public health system, which provides universal care to everyone who lives in Britain. Though transplants are free, there are often long waiting lists.

Very few Britons have private transplants, so in practice the new rules will stop overseas patients from coming to Britain and paying privately for a transplant.

The report by Elisabeth Buggins, former head of the Organ Donation Taskforce, was commissioned after a media storm over cases in which foreigners were given transplants from dead Britons.

Several newspapers reported last year that about 50 foreign patients had received livers from British donors at two London hospitals.

The transplants were legal because the NHS has a duty to treat anyone who is physically in Britain. But since the patients were not covered by Britain's health system, they paid a fee to the hospitals and doctors involved.

Buggins said that though the transplants were within the law, they had raised public "disquiet."

She said that there was no evidence the private patients got organs more quickly than NHS patients, but conceded that "it is extremely difficult to insulate a donated organ from the taint of 'private purchase' if it is transplanted into a fee-paying patient by a surgeon who makes a financial gain, in a hospital which also makes a profit from the procedure."

Buggins said that for most people, "financial gain from the transplant of donated organs feels morally wrong."

Britain's donation rate is low compared with the United States and many other European countries and the government has tried to encourage more people to become organ donors.

Buggins said most people who wanted to donate their organs assumed they would be given to people on an NHS waiting list, and the idea of "queue-jumpers" could deter donors.

"While I found no evidence of wrongdoing in the way organs are allocated to patients, there is a perception that private payments may unfairly influence access to transplant, so they must be banned," Buggins said.

Citizens of other European Union countries will still be entitled to publicly funded transplants in some circumstances, but the report said these should be tightened and clarified.

The ban does not affect transplants from living donors   such as kidney transplants   which can still be carried out privately as long as no money changes hands.

The government said it accepted the recommendations and hoped to enact the ban by October.

There are currently about 8,000 people waiting for organ transplants in Britain. In the past year, about 3,500 patients received transplants but another 1,000 on the waiting list died.


Copyright 2009 The Associated Press

 
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