Organ Donation and Families Overruling the Dead

I saw this article in the latest Bioedge, and it raised a couple of interesting points. My main interest personally is the ability of the family to overrule their deceased relatives decision to donate their organs.

One the one hand this seems to make sense. The relatives are the living people who can be affected by organ removal and so their wishes could be seen as the more important. However if we take this view then no individual can ever donate, and our concept of legal personhood would have to change, and it would always be up to surviving relatives to make the decision.

If on the other hand we can say that the deceased can carryover their interests then it should be impossible for the family to veto their donation, as the proposed change would bring about. This seems to be the most practical and legally sound approach in the current system. Families would then just have to accept that it is not their decision to donate or withhold organs.

The first option does make the most sense from a personhood based approach such as Derek Parfits. But if we acted on the basis that the deceased is no longer a person and so what happens to their body is a concern only for the living, then we would be best to adopt the first option above. However I believe that even with this approach the distress of the family (which is misplaced under a personhood approach as their relative is not harmed or wronged) is insufficient compared to the benefit of increased access to organs.

Consequently I think that system in which the medical profession can harvest organs from the deceased as and when they need them and find a suitable donor should be able to regardless of previous statements or family wishes. Families and society would just have to accept that the deceased are not harmed and the obsession with dead bodies that people have will have to become a more realistic attitude. I would contend that the benefits of increased organ availability demand nothing less.


Reprogramming Our Own Cells

This article from the Guardian Newspaper caught my eye. After reading it, it got me thinking about a number of things. Firstly it made me think about the problems with reprogramming cells, and given that in this trial they were trying to only change one pairs of letters of genetic code it seems that reprogramming is not an insurmountable problem.

Safety is a concern but I think that this demonstrates that the risks are not going to remain a problem. It seems that in relation to genetic alteration precision is key, and given the attempts to improve this, in the near future I think we will see the practice become easier and safer.

This will then lead to some major problems to those who oppose genetic technology and rely on the risks that might be caused. As more and more research is done the more ridiculous apocalypse arguments will become even weaker than they already are because we will have evidence demonstrating the safety and check systems in place for genetic technology.

The second issue relates to pharma companies. I quote “The scientists now hope to partner with a major pharmaceutical firm and work towards trials in people”. To me this is disconcerting. Something as important and potentially beneficial as this is reliant on the interests of pharma companies in order to be carried through to fruition.

Personally I think this is an indictment of the UK government and their unwillingness to really promote research in the UK. My own view is that research is an area that the UK could excel in a greater extent that now, but I do not think this is possible without government grants and support.

As always I would be interested in what you all think.

Human Bodies: Animal Bodies Panel (Wellcome Trust 75th Anniversary)

Lest week I attended a panel discussion hosted by the University of Manchester and which was part of the Institute for Science, Ethics and Innovation (iSEI) 75th Wellcome Trust Anniversary events.

The panellists were as follows:

Professor Martin Bobrow CBE FRS FMedSci, Professor Emeritus of Medical Genetics, University of Cambridge

Professor John Harris FMedSci, Lord Alliance Professor of Bioethics, University of Manchester & Director Institute for Science Ethics and Innovation (iSEI)

Professor Nikolas Rose, Martin White Professor of Sociology, London School of Economics

Professor Veronica van Heyningen CBE FRS FRSE FMedSci, Group Leader/Joint Section Head, Medical and Developmental Genetics Section, MRC Human Genetics Unit, Edinburgh

It was an interesting panel and as a PhD Student I found it useful to hear different approaches and perspectives from those who are involved in policy recommendations and from different disciplines.

I found the comments on the role of non-human animals and hybrids in experimentation, and the need to balance the benefits against the methods we use to achieve our goal. Given the speakers it was also interesting to be able to engage with some very experienced people who have worked in these difficult areas for a number of years.

It also brought me a bit more up to speed on current scientific capabilities and some of the practical issues that policy considerations have to deal with. Issues such as the humanisation of non-human animals and the role they may play in the future. The issue of definitions was also highlighted and some potential difficulties in the future were discussed.

All of this served to raise particular problems that need to be resolved fairly soon in the mind of the audience and I think that it helped make me more aware of the practical issues that we have to try and resolve.

It was a great event and I think it such a series is a good way to mark the 75th anniversary of the Wellcome Trust’s foundation.

For further information: