What use are organs when you're dead?

I HAVE sympathy with the bereaved parents who will be launching a multi-million pound legal action against the NHS in the High Court on Monday. That is, I sympathise with their enduring pain as bereaved parents. Their legal action is crass in the extreme.

I HAVE sympathy with the bereaved parents who will be launching a multi-million pound legal action against the NHS in the High Court on Monday.

That is, I sympathise with their enduring pain as bereaved parents. But their legal action is crass in the extreme.

They are not claiming that anyone in the NHS was at fault for their children's deaths.

If they were, you could understand their anger.

They are complaining that organs were removed from their children's dead bodies without their consent. And – this is the real point – that they were only offered £1,000 compensation each when the facts came to light, not the £5,000 paid to the parents in another similar case.

It is, you might think, a shame that the facts ever did come to light.

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No amount of hard cash could possibly compensate anyone for the loss of a child.

And no cash should be necessary to compensate for the loss of a dead child's organs.

What use is a liver, a kidney or any other body part to someone who has died? On the other hand, your organs could help someone else to live after you, or live a fuller life.

I hope that after I die, my component parts might be used to help someone else to a better existence.

Or – as was the case at Alder Hey and the other hospitals at the heart of the organ "scandals" – that they might help students learn to become surgeons. Or that they might be of some value in research.

After all, without trained doctors, or medical science, all our lives would be poorer and more vulnerable.

Organ transplants are one of the great success stories of modern medicine. Unhappily, the supply of organs does not meet the demand. About 400 people a year die in Britain while waiting for a donated organ.

Supposed "scandals" like Alder Hey – and the ridiculous demands of parents like those whose case goes to the High Court next week – can only make the shortage worse.

The selfishness of someone who would rather their loved one's organs are buried with them than save another life is barely credible.

It all seems an intractable problem. Yet there is a simple solution, if only the government would grasp the nettle. The current Human Tissues Bill misses the opportunity completely.

The Bill threatens up to three years' jail for anyone who removes tissue from a body without permission.

At the same time, the government says it hopes to have 16million registered donors by 2010, instead of the present 10.9m.

What they should be doing is bringing in an opt-out card and assume that anyone who doesn't carry one is willing to have their organs used after their death.

That way the desperate shortage of available body parts would be instantly solved. People who have just lost their loved ones would not have to be asked a sensitive and upsetting question.

And anyone with a genuine reason – a religious one, perhaps – for not wanting their organs to be used could go about in confidence that their wishes would be respected.


THIS is a small island with a growing population. Land is at a premium. But the idea of taking some off Stowmarket Middle School is insane. They want part of the playing field – to extend the town cemetery.

In medieval times bodies would heap up layer upon layer in a churchyard until the level of the land rose.

Then came the idea of the charnel house, where bones would be stored after they had been dug up to make way for more burials. You can still see one by St Mary's church in Mildenhall.

The idea could be revived. Personally, though, I'd rather be cremated. After any usable bits have been taken from my body for recycling, of course.


WHEN John Kerry came back from Vietnam in 1971, he had an audience with US senators.

Kerry, then just 27, was a naval hero with five medals from his service in that grim war. He stood up before the Senate and asked: "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"

He knew what it was to fight in a war – and to come to believe that war was wrong. It is no exaggeration to say that his words helped bring an end to America's longest, most futile conflict.

Today John Kerry, now 60, is a surprise front-runner in the race to be the Democrat candidate against George W Bush in the presidential election later this year.

While Bush knows war from movies, TV, gung-ho speeches and company balance-sheets, Kerry knows the reality. Crucially, he was opposed to America's great adventure in Iraq, and he is opposed to US troops remaining there.

To all appearances he is a highly educated, highly intelligent, decent, caring man. I just hope he isn't too decent to beat the war-mongering Bush.