The sensitivities of organ donation

The Welsh Government is pushing for an opt-out organ donation system but is this really wise?

Published 15 January 2013  |  
PA

People can be incredibly generous as my wife and I discovered when our car broke down recently. Despite the initial disappointment though (we were en route to a family birthday party) it turned out to be a very positive experience because the garage that handled the breakdown allowed us the free use of a courtesy car for a week.

Nations can be generous too. The people of Wales, for example, can give themselves a pat on the back for their admirable record when it comes to organ donation. Figures published in 2010 placed Wales before other European countries which already have systems of presumed consent.

So why is the Welsh Assembly Government so keen to press ahead and legislate in favour of an opt-out system which means that everyone will be considered to be a willing donor unless they have stated otherwise?

The UK government's welfare reforms have been called "a shambles" for introducing such an opt-out system yet we have politicians in Wales who believe this is the way to handle something far more fundamental than child benefit: a person's body.

The current proposals are flawed for all sorts of reasons. To begin with there's no certainty that they will even improve the donation rate. Philippa Taylor makes this point well in a Christian Medical Fellowship blog:

"The new research published found that donation rates in countries with opt-out laws do not differ dramatically from countries requiring explicit (opt-in) consent. Moreover: "…countries with the highest rates of deceased donation have national and local initiatives, independent of PC, designed to attenuate the organ shortage."

I made a similar point when commenting on the Spanish system. Spain is often cited as an example of the success of presumed consent legislation. In fact, what Spain shows is that high levels of organ donation can be obtained through implementation of an organ donation system that does not require opt-out laws.

"The other 'Transplantation' paper makes the point that In the UK, deceased organ donation has increased by 25% in 3 years through implementation of various recommendations that have transformed the infrastructure of donation. Not through introducing an opt-out system."

As much as I want to applaud our national generosity, and as much as I thank God for those who willingly donate their organs to help others I am convinced that 'presumed consent' is a step too far.

It could even backfire. People need to be handled carefully; the moment you tell them they "must" do something, they instinctively react against it. As the latest CMF briefing paper says: "The Bristol and Alder Hey controversies were fuelled by the perception that families had no real power in decision-making with respect to what happened to their loved one's body parts. They also showed how crucially important the body is to bereaved parents and friends, and illustrated the need to respect the human body, even in death."

The Archbishop of Wales has recognised these dangers and has suggested that there is a real possibility that a change in the law would alienate a significant proportion of the public as undermine the positive image of organ donation.

In fact I find it more than a little scary to think that any government should presume it has the right to do anything with my body without my active consent. It is mine by divine right. I reckon we need to be very careful lest we open the floodgates. What will it be next - our minds perhaps?

Reprints

More News in Comment