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Presuming Consent for Organ Donation Undercuts Potential Donor’s Rights, Ignores Serious Ethical Issues

7 August 2018


Adults will be presumed to be organ donors before consenting in this new scheme. (Photo Unsplash)

SPUC has responded to the government's plan to presume consent for organ donation. 

Read the full press release, and the full statement by Dr Anthony McCarthy here.

A new opt-out system for organ donation will be in place by 2020 in England, if Parliament approves "Max's Law". Under the plans detailed by ministers, adults will be presumed to be organ donors unless they have specifically recorded their decision not to be.

An opt-out organ donation policy has been in force in Wales since December 2015. A 2017 study showed that Wales' opt-out system for organ donation did not lead to an increase in the number of donors in the two years since it was introduced.

Good Intentions

While recognising the great good that many forms of organ donation achieve, SPUC is warning that the removal of explicit consent undermines the ethical basis of donation and ignores the genuine concerns around some aspects of organ donation.

The Opt-out Organ Donation System proposed by the UK Government and planned to be in place by Spring 2020, may have laudable intentions but serious ethical issues and potential public ignorance are being effectively set aside.

Organ donation is a considerable good given that it involves great charity on behalf of a person willing to donate an organ to give hope and the possibility of health to another. However, if the system is to respect the dignity of the person it must be built on consent of the donor. This cannot simply be presumed, as if the state owned our bodies.

SPUC is concerned about safeguarding the wellbeing of persons and not seeing a system emerge which makes the person a mere instrument to be used for the good of others.

Hearts still beating

Director of Research, Dr Anthony McCarthy commented that:

"There are complex ethical issues around organ donation that a system of presumed consent does not take seriously. How can the charitable basis of organ donation be upheld if a charitable willingness to donate is not explicitly sought or obtained?"

Dr McCarthy has set out a number of key concerns over this latest government policy announcement.

He stated "Most organ donors, including those who give explicit consent before they die, are unaware that their hearts may be beating when their organs are taken…"

He noted the varying standards of diagnosing whether a donor of vital organs is actually dead.

"Some of the [specialists] favour abandoning the 'dead donor' rule and simply taking vital organs from those admitted to be still alive though perhaps unconscious and close to death."

News in brief:

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