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Desperate British Health System Using Smokers' Lungs in Transplants


"In an ideal world you would rather have lungs from 20-year-old healthy people who have never smoked..."

What happens in Britain when the list of people needing organs is longer than the list people willing to donate them? The donees get "high risk" organs, like when 28-year-old Lyndsey Scott received the lungs of a 30-a-day smoker and died five months later.

"Desperate transplant patients are being given the lungs of chain smokers because the NHS is so short of organ donations," London's Daily Mail reports. "Surgeons are also being forced to use diseased body parts from cancer sufferers, drug addicts and the very elderly."

The newspaper also reports that doctors are using tissue from those more at risk of carrying HIV and Hepatitis C, "such as gay men and drug users."

"In an ideal world you would rather have lungs from 20-year-old healthy people who have never smoked, but that isn't a luxury we have," Professor James Neuberger, associate medical director of the NHS Blood and Transplant agency, told the Mail. "You have to say do you get a lung with more risk or do you get no lung? That sounds crude and brutal but it is the reality."

"If I were to put it to you or a member of your family that there was a 50 per cent chance of transmitting a virus or a 100 per cent of dying, it will come down to the balance of risk."

According to the Mail, the increase in high risk organ use is because growing numbers of donors are either obese or very elderly. Up to a quarter of dead donors are very overweight compared to just a seventh ten years ago, according to figures from the NHS, while the number of donors over 70 has also quadrupled in the last decade.

And while some patients are asked whether they are willing to take a 'high risk' or 'marginal' organ, the decision often lies with the doctor.

That was the case with Lydnsey Scott. Her family says she was never told her new lungs would be coming from a smoker, and they believe she would never had gone ahead with the operation if she had known.

Read the entire story from the Daily Mail.

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