Letter: Transplant consent
Thursday 25 February 1999
He rejects my analogy with coroner-ordered post-mortem examinations, for which consent is not required and from which there is no opting out. He rightly points out that "in addition to the very different purposes for which the organs are taken, there is the natural feeling that a patient whose heart is beating, even if artificially aided, is different from a corpse".
It is true that the purposes of post-mortem examination are different, but the issue is whether they are more urgent or important or involve a more significant public interest. Saving someone's life is prima facie at least as important and urgent and as much in the public interest as explaining a mysterious death. Of course the explanation of some mysterious deaths may reveal that a murderer is at large and apprehending him may save lives (as do organ transplants). However, the prime public interest is the same: that of protecting the public.
As to the natural feeling that beating-heart donors are different from a corpse, the answer is that they are not relevantly different if they are brain-dead, which they must be to be available as donors.
Dr Wilks expresses the fear that "interventions" such as mine might damagingly polarise feelings. Of course I hope not. But I first expressed this view publicly in 1983 and I have continued to express it publicly. My fear is that the thousands of lives that have needlessly been lost in the 16 years which it has taken the BMA to recommend change will continue to mount. An opting-out system will remain vulnerable to changes in public mood of the sort which rightly worries Dr Wilks, and also to the decisions of surviving relatives, who often refuse permission for organs to be taken even from registered donors.
Professor JOHN HARRIS
Institute of Medicine Law & Bioethics
University of Manchester
TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride
FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head
Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treattv
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Autistic adults could take pure MDMA to 'reduce social anxiety'
- 2 Natalie Portman tells Harvard graduates: 'Accept your lack of knowledge'
- 3 Before you complain about your GP, this is what you need to know about actually doing the job
- 4 Father of 12 accused of raping, beating, starving and abusing his own children in US 'cult'
- 5 Charlie Charlie Challenge explained: not a Mexican demon being summoned — it's gravity
Stolen Instagram photo sells for $90,000
Grace of Monaco film panned: Screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman as movie gets US debut
Britain's Got Talent 2015: Jamie Raven divides Twitter as fans expose mind-boggling magic trick
Suicide Squad: Leaked footage shows first look at Batmobile chasing Joker through city streets
ASAP Rocky sparks outrage with misogynistic lyrics about Rita Ora in new song 'Better Things'
EU referendum: David Cameron's rules are a 'democratic disgrace', says French-born Scottish politician set to be denied a vote
The day that Britain resigned as a global power
SNP fury as HS2 finds 'no business case' for taking fast train service to Scotland
Australian man punched in the face for defending Muslim women from abuse on train
A nation of inequality: How the UK is failing to feed its most vulnerable people
EU referendum: David Cameron to deny EU migrants and under-18s the chance to vote