Monday, November 17, 2008

Presumed Consent

An independent review is going to recommend that you can still make the choice of what happens to your body after you die. Presumed consent – which is where you are automatically signed up to a database of organ donors – is not right for the UK, according to the review:

However, this review, commissioned by the Government, is hostile to a change in the law and is likely to recommend sticking with the current laws when it is published today. That move will be welcomed by some patients' groups who are strongly opposed to presumed consent.
Whether or not that actually becomes the government’s line is open to question, though:
Mr Brown himself voted against adopting such a system in 2004 but, earlier this year, indicated he had become more favourably disposed towards it.
Now, there is a case to be made for presumed consent, as Professor Sir Liam Donaldson points out:
He said: "People are dying, people are suffering and many people are living on a knife-edge of despair waiting for a phone call that never comes. My view has always been that we need to act with solidarity, generosity and humanity to give these people a future."
Absolutely. However, if people are forced to join a donor database, that is not solidarity. It is not generosity. It has very little to do with humanity. And, on a semantic point, it is not presumed consent. It is enforced, government coerced consent.

Don’t get me wrong, once I have shuffled off this mortal coil, anyone is welcome to any of my organs. I’d steer well clear of the liver and the kidneys, though – I think the booze will have made those less attractive as potential donations. But I have no qualms about any part of me being given after my death. I am not precious about it. However, I know other people are – for reasons or religion, or vanity, or being squeamish or whatever. And this system of presumed consent removes choice, as it pressurises people to object to being donors rather than people volunteering to be donors. And the whole point of charity is people chose to give, rather and being tacitly forced to give.

This system of presumed consent isn’t a million miles away from becoming an organ tax – you have to give your organs and any other part of your body after death to the state for redistribution to others. Presumed consent is a stepping stone towards that system. As far as I am concerned, though, the one thing you should be able to claim ownership of is your body and its contents – both pre and post mortem. You can chose to become a donor, you should not have to proactively choose not to be a donor and any attempts to move in that direction should be opposed.

And rather than adopting this presumed consent system, how about starting a campaign not just to advertise organ donation but also to educate people about why organ donation is so important. Explain to people that it saves lives; use empathy to help people understand how it would feel if they, or one of their loved ones, was on the waiting list for a organ transplant. And then let people chose, rather than telling them what choice has been made on their behalf. Let’s try to be persuasive, rather than just being coercive.

The review got it right; let’s hope that the government hears what they are saying and, for once, actually do the right thing themselves.

UPDATE: As I was writing this post, Brown intervened in the debate. And guess what? If he doesn't get the result he wants, then he will legislate. Let's look at his words:

"The proposal is that we double the number of volunteers to 50 per cent. If we can't get there quickly, then we will return to the proposal I have put forward, which is a presumed consent system."
So, if Gordon can't get what he wants through blackmail, he will do so through legislation. I struggle to think up anything that sums up Nu Labour better. "Do what we want, regardless of whether it is right or wrong. Or we will pass laws to force you to".

Freedom of choice over such fundamental issues as what happens to your body after you die are irrelevant to these people. You have the right to choose. As long as you choose what Brown wants.

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At 12:47 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I said it at Longrider's, I've said it on my blog and I'll say it here too.

I'm with Gordon Brown on this one. I see it as a pragmatic switching of presumptions in order to overcome inertia, not as "the state taking ownership of your body".

At 1:55 pm , Blogger The Nameless Libertarian said...

But it is the state taking ownership of your body. After you are dead, they decide what they want to do with it regardless of your thoughts. Yes, people can opt out. But they are opting out of the state chosing what happens to their property - their bodies - after they have died.

The way to overcome inertia in this case is to educate and inform people as to why organ donation is so essential. My view on this is very simple - give people choice, educate them on why they might want to make that choice, rather than remove that choice from them.



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