"The Presumed Consent Law"
Tina Nelson -- Executive Director, American Anti-Vivisection Society
Xenotransplantation, or the transplantation of organs from animals to humans, is on the rise. Due to the chronic shortage of human organs, many transplant centers are considering the use of substitute organs from baboons, chimpanzees, pigs and sheep.
Approximately 12,000 organ transplants are performed in the United States each year. The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) is a nonprofit organization in Richmond, Virginia that, under federal contract, allocates organs nationally. Patients can register and be placed on a waiting list; however, this does not guarantee that an organ will be available by the time the patient's own organ fails. For instance, in 1993, 50,169 patients registered with UNOS, but 2,887 died while waiting for donor organs. The primary cause for these mortality rate is the shortage of organs due to the failure of people to donate. Only 1 out 5 people has consented to donate his or her organs at death. At least 100,000 people die each year of accidents or strokes, and approximately 20,000 of these are potential organ donors. However, the number of donors remains low, at about 4,000 per year.
In a 1993 AV Magazine article, John McArdle, Ph.D., our Scientific Advisor, wrote an article which discussed the alternatives to xenotransplantation. Among those alternatives is the Presumed Consent Law. This law was originally recommended by the Council of Europe in 1978 and subsequently passed in most European countries. The basis of this law is the legal presumption that anyone is a potential organ donor, unless he or she has stated an opposite wish, which can be done making a written statement of dissent in any form. At death, family members are not required to extend permission to "harvest" the deceased's organs. This law is the exact opposite of the current United States organ donation law which requires that the person grant prior permission for the use of his or her organs at death.
The United States law has been extremely ineffective and unable to meet the high demand for organs despite evidence that the majority of people support the concept of donating. The European law, however, has been overwhelmingly effective, especially in Austria where organ availability quadrupled after the Presumed Consent Law was implemented. In Belgium, the experience was similar, proving that the results of presumed consent are very successful.
Several animal protection organizations are presently working on building a coalition, and expect to have legislation drafted and introduced regarding a Presumed Consent Law in the United States. By establishing this law, we will be saving many lives that otherwise would have been wasted and will have provided a smart alternative to xenotransplantation.
I encourage AAVS members to support the implementation of such a law, but offer an additional suggestion in the interim. Please call or write the AAVS and request The Humane Research Donor Card. Millions of animals would be saved if medical researchers used human tissue in their work instead of killing healthy animals. By carrying this card, you ensure promoting ethical research which benefits people and animals. Also available in The AAVS catalog is our publication, Health and Humane Research, which provides factual information on animal experiments and alternatives, and contains The Humane Research Donor Card.
The American Anti-Vivisection Society promotes compassion in classroom, laboratories, and dinner plate. This 100+ years old organization also issues grants to scientists for using and/or developing non-animal tests. For more information, please write: 801 Old York Road, Suite 204, Jenkintown, PA 19046-1685. Phone: 215-887-0816.