Hard-Hitting Ad Reopens Organ Donation Row

2:20pm UK, Saturday May 15, 2010

Thomas Moore, health correspondent

An uncompromising advert has been released to call for post-death organs to be automatically donated to patients in need of life-saving operations.

Campaigners in Wales hope it will help to change public attitudes as they push towards an opt-out donor choice to replace a UK system in which three people die in need of an organ each day.

Kerrianne Phillips, who has had liver disease since birth and appears in the advert, has given a graphic account on life waiting on the transplant list.

Now 22, her condition has deteriorated to the point where she is on a constant drip of morphine painkillers and fed through a tube.

Her liver is so swollen that people have asked her if she is pregnant. She knows death could be just around the corner.

"I was advised to write letters just in case," she told Sky News.

"So have written death letters to all the people I care about. But I hope they won't ever have to open them."

Television appeal

Kidney Wales' advert features transplant patients in 'death row' style prison cells

Kerrianne has spent much of the last year in Bronglais Hospital in Aberystwyth.

She cannot sleep much, cannot walk much, and just hopes someone comes to see her during visiting time.

"My liver is deteriorating very quickly," she added.

"My mum tells me when she's cried, she just won't tell me when she's crying. She gets really upset if I've been ill and she comes up to see me."

Despite years of campaigning, just over a quarter of people have joined the organ donor register.

The Welsh Assembly is considering whether the system can be changed, so that everyone is presumed to have given consent for the organs to be used after death - unless they opt out (a system already use in Spain and Belgium).

Roy J Thomas of the charity Kidney Wales welcomed the plans, which could take effect as soon as next spring.

"People have been carrying cards on the register for some years," he told Sky News.

This is a highly sensitive individual decision that has to be made by each and every one of us.

Patients Association director Katherine Murphy

"And now we need to presume that we can ask the question and that's the soft opt-out question that we're putting to the UK Government now."

The charity's advert features Kerrianne and other transplant patients in a prison cell, as if they were on death row.

Scientists at the Medical Research Council calculate that if the UK switched to presumed consent an extra 1,000 patients each year would be able to have life-enhancing transplants.

But the Patients Association objects to any change to the system.

Director Katherine Murphy said: "This is a highly sensitive individual decision that has to be made by each and every one of us.

"And for a clinician to make the decision, removing that right is very dangerous."

Advocates of presumed consent insist people could opt out of the system by joining a register. And relatives would still be able to refuse consent at the bedside.

:: Those wishing to join the donor list can register on the Donate Wales website. For more information on kidney disease, visit the Kidney Research UK website.