Shorter waiting times give those in need of an organ transplant a better chance to survive, yet all too often patients die while still waiting for a suitable donor. Common European rules on organ transplants will be debated by the European Parliament Tuesday afternoon from 1500. At stake across Europe is not only ensuring that organs are safely acquired and transplanted but also the growing demand for them.

Almost 60,000 patients are on waiting lists EU-wide and every day 12 of them die still waiting for a transplant.

Speaking ahead of the debate, Miroslav Mikolášik, Parliament's rapporteur on the subject told us he had "stressed the main principles guiding donation and transplantation - voluntary and unpaid donation and particularly protection of the living donors. In order to prevent illegal organ trafficking, any commercialisation or financial incentives must be strictly excluded". The role of donor coordination between foreign countries would also be expanded and encouraged.

He also said that if approved by fellow MEPs then European Governments would have three years to incorporate the recommendations of this Directive into national legislation.

Over 80% of Europeans support the donor card but only around only 12% actually have one. There are also huge differences in donor numbers between member states. In Spain there are 34.6 donations per million people compared with 0.5 per million in Romania

Trying to match donors and recipients separately in each member state seriously limits options, also leading to phenomena like organ trafficking. Existing exchange organisations - Eurotransplant (Austria, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Croatia, Germany, the Netherlands and Slovenia) and Scandiatransplant (Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Iceland) cover only limited number of EU countries.

The creation of a European area of organ transplants, with harmonised quality assurance systems, improved cooperation between member states and higher number of donors through specific campaigns and administrative procedures could make a difference.

Guaranteeing the quality and safety of organs

The EU directive examined by the EP foresees each member state having a National Authority enforcing a National Quality Programme.

The proposal envisages public or non-profit private National Authorities. Their role will be to enforce, via the National Quality Programme, the quality and safety of organs, ensuring that all correct procedures and safeguards are followed by all organisations or companies involved, from the identification of the donor and organ harvesting to the actual transplantation.

It would enhance the safety of recipients and facilitate the exchange of organs between member states by ensuring that all organs conform to certain minimum standards. The National Authorities will supervise exchanges between countries and, to facilitate this, a network of such authorities would be set up, with the European Commission establishing the necessary systems and protocols for the dissemination of information.

Speaking after the Committee backed his plans Mr Mikolášik said "the objective is to have more organs for more patients," explained Miroslav Mikolášik, Parliament's rapporteur on the subject. "This includes more cooperation between member states." Currently many states are excluded from the two trans-European transplant organisations, yet "there are organs, of good quality with good traceability" in all countries, he said.

Participants in the Eurotransplant area exchange around 20% of all organs transplanted each year (around 3,300 organs), while only 2% of organs leave or enter the Eurotransplant area.

More efficient and accessible transplants

In parallel to the directive, a 10 point action plan for 2009-2015 will be discussed Tuesday afternoon. It has been proposed to improve the quality and safety of organs, increase organ availability and make transplant procedures more efficient and accessible.

Actions include the exchange of information and best practices to help countries with low organ availability improve their donor rates, the appointment of "Transplant Donor Coordinators" in hospitals and enhancing public awareness.

A report by Spanish Socialist Andres Perello Rodriguez on the action plan supports the goals and proposes that countries propose that people become donors for example when applying for a passport or driving licence or online.

"We are trying to make sure that the persons who need just an organ to stay alive can survive, that Europeans who are waiting for an organ will stay alive," he said.

Organ Trafficking

MEPs said that, to combat organ trafficking there should be no financial rewards for organ donation, with the exception of defraying the costs of live donors, who in turn should "in principle" only be allowed to donate to close relatives and in any case act as a last resort in case no organ is found.

Parliament is scheduled to vote on the proposals 18 May.