Unlike other countries, the UK prevents the organs of deceased babies under the age of two months to be transplanted.
Doctors based at Great Ormond Street Hospital are crying out for these rules to be amended to allow parents to donate their dead babies’ organs. This could save the lives of other sick infants.
The current ruling in the UK does not make it possible to transplant the organs of babies who were not born prematurely, but die whilst in intensive care, to help others. Doctors feel this decision should be at the parents’ discretion.
The guidelines, which were implemented during 1992, state that confirmation of death by neurological means is rarely possible in infants younger than two months. This method is however used in many other countries. Donation of organs is only allowed once death has been confirmed by the use of ‘circulatory criteria.’ However, by then, the heart is usually unable to be used and this is the one organ babies need to obtain from another baby because of its size.
Experts from St George’s medical school, along with doctors at Great Ormond Street Hospital have asked for the guidelines to be reviewed.
They have said that the situation is quite ‘bizarre’ because organs donated by babies aged less than two months have been obtained from other countries and transplanted into infants in the UK, however the reverse situation never occurs.
Experts at Great Ormond Street have stated that in the six year period up to 2012, approximately 54% of the 84 babies who died at the hospital were suitable as organ donors. Of this number, 11 were suitable donors after they were pronounced death based on brain stems, and 34 circulatory death donations could have been completed.
Doctors at the hospital have first-hand experience in the urgent need for childhood organ donation. Small babies are particularly in need, but the odds are stacked against them because they need precise matching with infants of the same age.
This is an emotive topic and the loss of a child will remain a heartbreaking and tragic situation. However, many parents may find comfort in donating their infant’s organs as it could save another infant.
Image credit: Joseph Novak