Human bodies: donation for medicine and research

Donated bodily material for medicine and research, such as organs, eggs and sperm, are in high demand, and current levels of donation fall short of need.

This report sets out guidance to help people consider the ethical acceptability of various ways of encouraging people to donate, both for treatment of others and for scientific research.

Key recommendations

  • Role of preventable diseases

    The role of preventable diseases in the increasing demand for organs should be publicised in order to add weight to public health campaigns.

  • Government monitoring and protection

    The Government should monitor closely how planned changes within the English NHS affect organ donation services, and should protect systems that have been shown to work well.

  • Clear information about donating after death

    The possibility of donating material after death for research purposes, as well as for transplantation, should be made clearer in public information about the Organ Donor Register.

  • Ban on organ trafficking and transplant tourism

    We endorse the current international consensus that organ trafficking and transplant tourism should be banned.

  • Good governance systems

    Good governance systems are an essential requirement if potential donors are to have the trust necessary for them to consider donation in the first place.

  • Donors as partners in the research

    People donating material for research purposes should be treated as partners in the research, and their ongoing interest in the progress of the research recognised.

  • Donated materials regarded as a public good

    Once donated for research purposes, bodily material should be regarded as a public good: researchers should make the most efficient use of it possible, and must be willing to share it on the basis of scientific merit.

  • Infrastructure for egg and sperm donation

    A national or regional donor service should be established to provide an infrastructure for egg and sperm donation, along similar lines to the structures currently in place for organ donation.

  • Shared responsibility for overseas standards

    Where UK fertility professionals refer patients abroad, they should share responsibility for the general standards prevailing at the receiving centre, including how egg donors are recruited and how the welfare of donors is safeguarded.

  • Guiding principles to protect egg donors

    The World Health Organization should develop guiding principles to protect egg donors from abuse or exploitation.

  • Volunteers as partners in the research

    People volunteering in first-in-human trials should be treated as partners in the research, and their ongoing interest in the progress of the research should be recognised.

  • Registration of first-in-human trial volunteers

    The registration of healthy volunteers in first-in-human trials on a national database should be a compulsory requirement for ethical approval of such trials, in order to limit the harms of over-volunteering.

  • Non-payment of living organ donors

    Living organ donors should not receive payment other than the direct reimbursement of costs incurred by being a donor.

  • Funeral expenses scheme for organ donors

    We suggest the introduction of a pilot scheme in which the NHS would meet funeral expenses for those who sign the Organ Donor Register and subsequently die in circumstances where they could become organ donors.

  • Research into opt-out system for organ donation

    Robust research is needed on the effects of an opt-out system for organ donation if this is introduced in Wales, as currently planned, in order to obtain a clear evidence base for any proposals for change elsewhere in the UK.

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