Transplant row as one in four livers go to heavy drinkers

Transplants for people with alcohol-related liver damage rose by more than 60 per cent in the last decade, while waiting lists for donors has lengthened.

Dr Tony Calland, chairman of the British Medical Association’s ethics committee, says surgeons could refuse transplants to heavy drinkers unless they agree to curb their alcohol habit.

“Organs are precious resources and should be used where the clinical outcome, the patient’s health, justifies the use of something so scarce,” Dr Calland told the Observer.

“You have to have to have a very definite evidence that the person is going to stop drinking.

“If someone won’t promise, you could refuse them the transplant on clinical rather than ethical grounds.”

Official figures show that in the year to March 31 2008, a total of 151 liver transplants out of 623 in the UK went to people with alcohol-related liver disease.

Cases of cirrhosis of the liver have tripled over the past decade. The rise was especially sharp in men and women under 45 where death rates now exceed the European average.

Last month, Alison Rogers, chief executive of the British Liver Trust warned that the death toll from alcohol remains ‘unacceptably high’.

A survey by Doctor magazine in September found many family and hospital doctors believed NHS treatment should be withheld from patients who lead unhealthy lives.

Ninety-four per cent said that an alcoholic who refused to stop drinking should not be allowed a liver transplant.

About one in 10 hospitals already deny some surgery to obese patients and smokers, with restrictions most common in hospitals battling debt.

But a spokesman for NHS Blood and transplant, the body which overseas the allocation of donated organs, said the decisions had to be made on a case-by-case basis.

“The patient’s surgeon assesses whether that person is fit physically and is able to cope with the rigours of living after the transplant.”

Liberal Democrat Don Foster, who obtained the figures, called for the price of alcohol to be raised to combat binge-drinking.

“These figures are a stark warning about the impact alcohol is having on health services in this country,” he said,

“Recent studies have proved that the cheaper alcohol is the more we all drink.

“None of us wants to pay more for our alcohol, but with an alcohol crisis on our hands we have to look again at raising the price of the cheapest alcoh

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