Human bodies: donation for medicine and research


Published 10/10/2011

Nuffield Human Bodies cover 2
Organ donation smaller

There are many ways to make donation easier and to reduce the need for donation by action on the part of professionals, organisations and the Government.

We argue that there is a strong public interest in donation, and in the communal provision of donated material in response to health needs. This is true not just of organs and blood, mainly donated and used within the NHS, but also of eggs and sperm, where the majority of treatment takes place in the private sector. There is also a strong public interest in medical research, and the health benefits it aims to achieve, even where research carried out in the commercial sector leads also to private financial gains.

On organ donation, we conclude

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

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.

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.

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

On tissue for research, we conclude

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.

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.

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.

On egg and sperm donation, we conclude

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.

Where UK fertility clinics and professionals refer patients to clinics and professionals 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.

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

On volunteering for clinical trials, we conclude

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.

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.