Plans to increase the number of human organs available for transplant in Britain may reduce the number of patients seeking 'unethical' surgery abroad, experts say.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown has floated controversial proposals for a system of 'presumed consent', where organs are automatically removed from patients after death unless they have otherwise opted-out.
It is believed that a shortfall in organs in Britain has forced many to travel to developing countries for transplant surgery, which often have fewer transparent systems.
The phenomena of 'transplant tourism' has become an increasingly controversial in the last couple of years, with the emergence of evidence that the Chinese communist regime is harvesting organs from a bank of live prisoners and selling them to foreigners.
One medical expert, who did not wish to be named, said: "If we move to presumed consent, the likelihood is that it may stop people travelling aboard.
But to what degree remains to be seen. One problem is that we won't ever know how many people go there for transplants because there are no records.
"In countries where there is presumed consent they appear to be able to keep up with the demand much better."
He added: "Heart and lung disease are the biggest killers. But it is harder to get those organs because people have to die to give them up. What is odd about the situation in China is how they are able to offer organs like those almost on demand."
In 2006 Canadian politician David Kilgour, together with lawyer David Matas published details of an investigation into the harvesting of organs from incarcerated Falun Gong practitioners in China. The report confirmed the existence of large-scale harvesting of organs for profit from a vast 'bank' of imprisoned members of the meditation group.
Despite this, a number of businesses on the internet offer to fly those in need of organs to countries where they are more readily available, including China.
One such 'transplant coordinator', Jim Cohen, said that "probably every day" he was approached by British people who need transplant surgery and are willing to fly to a foreign country.
He added: "When a person is dying they don't care where the organs come from."
A spokesman for the Department of Health said that the government did not keep centralised records of numbers for 'transplant tourists', despite data being collected at the level of individual hospitals.
There are between 7,000 and 8,000 people currently waiting for a transplant in Britain, but only 3,000 transplant operations are typically performed in a year.
The government currently operates a system whereby organs can only be removed if patients have placed their names on a register before their death.
There are currently 14.9 million people on the organ donor register – around 24 per cent of the population.
In terms of actual donors (not just people willing to give, but those whose organs are actually used) there are about 13 donors per million in our population.
This compares with about 22 donors per million in France and 25 per million in America. Spain has a system of 'presumed consent' and has a rate of 35 per million – the highest in the world.
Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Gordon Brown advocated a move to a system similar to that in Spain, which uses a 'soft' approach to organ donation where relatives are able to intervene to stop the organs of the deceased being used for transplants.
Austria operates a 'hard' system, where relatives do not have the final say if the deceased had not already opted out.
The move has been welcomed by surgeons and medical charities, but has attracted opposition from patient groups and individuals.
Janet Valentine found that numerous organs had been removed from the body of her five-month-old daughter Kayleigh after her death in Alder Hey hospital, Liverpool.
The 48-year-old, from Wrexham, north Wales, said: "I'm really worried about the law being changed. To give the gift of life that's the greatest thing in the world. At the same time it should be a gift, it shouldn't be stolen.
"We all want organ transplants to go on. I'd like to see a lot more transplants done to save children, it must be terrible for their parents. Something has got to be done, but it has got to be done right."
The government has launched a consultation into the law change, and results are not expected back for at least a year.