New Clause 6 - Removal of relevant material following death

Human Tissue Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 5th February 2004.

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'(1) No removal from the body of a deceased person, for use for a scheduled purpose, of any relevant material of which the body consists or which it contains shall be effected except by a registered medical practitioner, who must have satisfied himself by personal examination of the body that life is extinct.

(2) For the purposes of this section ''relevant material'' does not include eyes or parts of eyes.'.—[Dr. Evan Harris.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Liberal Democrat, Oxford West and Abingdon

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

This is a probing new clause, if there is such a thing—I believe that there is. I am very pleased that it was selected. There were alternative ways of raising the issue, such as an amendment, but by the time the matter became apparent, we had considered the relevant clauses.

The new clause consists of the terminology used in an earlier Act that will be repealed by the Bill. I accept that it is clearly ridiculous to suggest that a registered medical practitioner should be the only one to remove organs. The Minister does not even need to put on the record the fact that that is now out of date. I want to find out whether it is the Government's intention to drop the requirement that there should be a personal examination of the body by someone, presumably a registered medical practitioner, before such acts are carried out. If that is their intention, why is the requirement being dropped? That was a requirement in earlier legislation, however imperfect, and it has not been translated into the Bill. If I am wrong, I will accept that, and I hope that the Minister will have mercy on me, given that we are near the end of our proceedings.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Shadow Minister (Health)

I was about to launch into an attack on the hon. Gentleman for holding medical practitioners up as the only profession that could remove organs. He will be aware that a number of professions can do that. I was going to ask him why he had omitted teeth, because dentists are pre-eminently adept at removing teeth—

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Shadow Minister (Health)

The Under-Secretary is reflecting on his moment of glory in an earlier sitting.

Dental practitioners would also be included, but quite apart from the medical and dental professions, vast numbers of people are trained and competent to be involved in the procedure. However, the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) has reassured me by explaining that this is a probing motion, and I look forward to hearing the Minister's response.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton The Minister of State, Department of Health 2:45 pm, 5th February 2004

What the new clause does and what the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon is trying to get at seem to be two different things. Let me give some background information about the Human

Tissue Act 1961, on which the measure is based. That Act was introduced to made it possible for tissue and organs to be removed for transplantation; it also authorised the removal of tissue for other purposes. As the hon. Gentleman said, the Act originally provided that only doctors could remove the tissue. However, in 1986, an exception was made for eyes, when approval was given, as the hon. Member for Westbury (Dr. Murrison) said, for less qualified technicians to undertake the removal of eyes to retrieve corneas. As has been said, although that is to be done under the supervision of a medical practitioner, the measure builds on experience in other countries which shows that properly trained technicians can retrieve a wide range of tissue, such as bone, tendons and heart valves.

The Bill works differently from the 1961 Act. It does not specify exactly who must do what. Removal of human tissue from the deceased for transplantation will fall within the remit of the Human Tissue Authority, which will have a duty to prepare codes of practice on the definition of death and on removal of tissue from the deceased for scheduled purposes, including transplantation. Those will set out the standards of training and experience, and the practices to be followed by persons undertaking such activities. It is clearly preferable—and I feel that this is what the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon was getting at—for retrieval of organs, tissues or cells to be undertaken by people who are specifically trained for the purpose, whether or not they are medical practitioners.

I was asked why it need not be a doctor who confirms death before tissue can be removed. The general requirement regarding death certification remains unaffected; it has to be done by a doctor. However, the Bill is about the removal of tissue after death. Removal before death without consent and where it is not in the person's best interests is an offence. No further provision is, therefore, needed with regard to that matter.

To an extent, the hon. Gentleman and I are approaching the matter from the same angle. I hope that I have clarified it and that he feels able to withdraw the motion.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Liberal Democrat, Oxford West and Abingdon

Yes, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.