Why All Transplants Should Be Halted

Dr Vernon Coleman MB ChB DSc FRSA

Organ transplantation has long worried me. Back in the 1960s, I took part in a television programme with Dr Christiaan Barnard who performed the first heart transplant.

Many things about transplants worried me – but nothing more than the fact that it was impossible to be sure that the donor was really dead when his organs were removed.

You can’t wait until the body is properly dead to ‘harvest’ the organs. You need them fresh and in good condition. So it’s a moot point whether the donor is, or is not, still alive when his or her heart and kidneys are removed.

To start with, surgeons relied on ECG machines to tell if a patient had died. Then it became clear that this really wasn’t a very safe way to decide whether or not it was OK to start ripping organs out of a patient. So, ‘brain death’ became the fashionable way to decide if a patient had ‘died’. If there was no trace of life on the machine which measures brain activity then the surgeons could move in.


This morning I read about a young Palestinian who was hit in the head by an Israeli bullet and lay in bed comatose in an Israeli hospital. The hospital doctors pronounced the young man brain dead and sent him home to Gaza strip to die. He recovered and five years later had a wife and three sons. The only sign of his injury was a limp.

And this, remember, is the same definition of death which is used as a sign for the transplant surgeons to move in and start removing vital organs.

There’s another problem with transplantation.

No nation can possibly afford to perform transplants on everyone who needs one.

And so social workers, nurses and doctors sit around a big table, drink coffee, munch biscuits and decide which patients will live and which will die. The social workers pretty much run the thing.

They have a sort of points system for doing this.

So, if you’ve got 16 kids you get lots of points and you probably get a new heart. If you’re single then they’ll probably let you die.

The system is absurd, cruel, unfair and indefensible.

Mozart and Beethoven wouldn’t be chosen for transplants. But an unemployed yahoo with a wife, a mistress and two council houses full of kids would be top of the list.

So, between the fact that the system is grossly unfair and no one can tell if the donor is really dead, I think we should abandon transplant surgery.

The vast amounts of money spent on transplants could be used to improve diagnostic services and to reduce waiting times for routine but life-saving surgery.

Remember, the money available for health services is finite.

Choices have to be made.

And I guarantee that far more lives would be saved if transplants were halted.

Copyright Vernon Coleman 2017

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