13/02/2012 12:11 GMT

The British Medical Association: 'Patients Should Be Kept Alive Solely For Organ Donation'

Brain-dead patients should be kept alive on artificial ventilators so they can become organ donors posthumously, a controversial new report has claimed.

The British Medical Association (BMA) claims that restarting the hearts of people who have recently died should be considered to help the chronic shortage of donors.

The new report, Building on Progress: Where Next For Organ Donation Policy In The UK? is appealing for more to be done to increase the number of organ donors.

The medical association will consider more "difficult concepts" and further avenues for improvement if the numbers continue to dip.

These radical concepts include using organs from higher-risk patients, such as elderly people, as well as reviewing the guidelines for using the hearts of babies aged under three months who have no chance of survival.

In the damning report, the BMA states that even if the donor numbers increase by 50% in 2013, a target set by the Organ Donation Taskforce in 2008, people will still be dying unnecessarily while waiting for an organ transplant.

Although the new proposed measures have met ethical criticism, the BMA adds that discussions of such a proposal would be done "cautiously" and will only result after a "public debate".

"We are at a crossroads in terms of public policy," Dr Tony Calland, the chairman of the BMA, said in a statement.

"As a society we need to decide whether we should accept that we have done all we can or whether we should move forward, cautiously, and look at other options for increasing the number of donors.

"These are complex issues that throw up many ethical challenges. It is important that society discusses them openly in a reassuring way. The aim here is to save lives while at the same time, protecting individual rights and autonomy."

Dr. Calland added that although the current donor system is set up for people to 'opt-in', the BMA is in favour of changing it to 'opt-out' - where a patient is presumed to give consent for their organs unless they have expressly said otherwise.

"While our report explores a number of options, the BMA continues to believe that an opt-out system with safeguards is the best way forward in the UK."

Other donor strategies include offering to pay for funeral costs to those who sign a dead loved-one onto the Organ Donor Register.

There are currently over 7,600 people waiting for organ transplants in the UK, with 6,430 being kidney transplants alone.

Sadly, a further 2,783 have to be suspended from the transplant list due to becoming to ill and 511 people died while waiting for their transplant. The average waiting time for a transplant is approximately 1153 days for an adult, and 307 days for children.

According to statistics from NHS Organ Donation, although there has been a 5% increase in deceased donors, donor characteristics are changing, with donors being generally older, more obese, less likely to have suffered a trauma-related death. This has adverse effects on transplant outcomes.

Organ donation was recently highlighted in the documentary Katie: The Science of Seeing Again, where acid attack victim Katie Piper spoke of her admiration for organ and tissue donors after receiving embryotic tissue stem cells to rebuild the cornea in her partially blinded eye.

If you want to 'opt-in' for organ donation, visit the NHS Organ Donation or call 0300 123 23 23 to register your details.