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People in the United Kingdom have a positive attitude to use of human tissue and organs for medical research, education, or transplantation, with 68% saying they are certain or likely to donate their body, organs, or tissue, concludes an independent study carried out for the Human Tissue Authority. However, only 5% of people had already taken the necessary steps to do so.
The research, carried out by Ipsos MORI, found that consent was a key factor in whether people would allow their tissue or organs to be used. Interviewees were given a choice of three options about consent and asked which most closely represented their views. It was possible to choose more than one option.
The highest percentage (46%) said they would be happy for their tissue or organs to be used for any purpose with their prior consent. Some 33% thought it acceptable for their family members to give consent on their behalf after their death, and 19% believed that it was never acceptable to use tissue or organs for any purpose without the consent of the individual or family. Sixteen per cent of respondents said they didn't know, did not hold any of the three opinions, or refused to answer.
More than 2000 members of the general public were surveyed for the research, the results of which were released at a meeting last week to report on the authority's progress in its first six months.
The study also included four general focus groups and in-depth interviews with four people: a disabled person aged over 60, a carer, a British Asian, and a practising Muslim.
White respondents, those in higher social classes, and those with confidence in the regulation of human tissue were most likely to see it as acceptable for their organs and tissues to be used.
The authority was set up to regulate the removal, storage, use, and disposal of human bodies, organs, and tissue after scandals over the retention of children's organs at Bristol Royal Infirmary and Alder Hey Hospital without parents' knowledge or consent.
None of the focus group participants or in-depth interviewees had heard of the HTA. “People need more reassurance that a regulator is in place but also want to know exactly what procedures are involved in the donation, removal, storage, and use of human tissue,” said the report.
Participants were suspicious of media stories about retained tissue and thought that these had been blown “out of all proportion.”
Perhaps the most important finding was that even with little or no knowledge of the regulatory processes, people's confidence in the regulation of the donation, removal, storage and use of human tissue was “reasonable but could be improved,” the researchers said.
They added: “If the public feels informed they are likely to be more trusting of regulation.”
Shaun Griffin, the authority's director of communications, said that the research would form a baseline for further work and help in formulating codes of practice and informing the public.
The Ispsos Mori report can be found at www.hta.gov.uk.