Monitor: Organ Donation

Response to the British Medical Association's vote in favour of adopting `assumed consent' for organ donation
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The Independent Culture
The Daily Mail

THE PROSPECT of doctors poised over a dying person with their knives ready to extract their organs when they die is disturbing, even when there is explicit consent. But the assumption that consent is not necessary in these circumstances goes against everything we feel and believe about respect for the dead, and also about respect for the living. The type of thinking prepared to see the dead as exploitable is just the type of thinking prepared to think similarly about various categories of the living. And down the slippery slope we will proceed, from state-farmed corpses to the use of the still-living brain-dead and the severely handicapped to God knows what other horrors in their wake. (Anthony O'Hear)

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The Daily Telegraph

THE HUMAN Tissues Act of 1961 makes no requirement that relatives should be consulted before organs are removed, nor that any conditions laid down by donors should be observed. In practice, however, relatives are always consulted, as a mark of respect for their feelings, before organs are taken for transplant from the bodies of those who have left no written wishes about what should be done with them. We say that this is a good convention, and that it should not be changed. If doctors removed organs without permission, that could cause extreme distress to the bereaved - and particularly to those whose religious convictions insist that bodies should be buried intact. To change the rules so that people had to opt out of donating organs, rather than opting in, would be to violate human decency. As for the "racist transplant" row, it is nothing but a puff of irrelevant propaganda.

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The Times

THERE ARE ethical objections to "presumed consent". A recent government survey found that most people would not support changing the law to create an "opt-out" system. Altruism, not state compulsion, should motivate people to donate their organs. Instead of considering the state ownership of the dead, ministers should first exhaust all possible means of encouraging voluntary donation. Collating the national census or renewing people's driving and television licenses are ideal opportunities where more could and should be done. Britain's corpses should only be nationalised as the very last resort.

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Evening Standard

A GENUINE ethical dilemma on transplants, however, was raised by the British Medical Association yesterday when doctors called for a change in the law to allow surgeons to remove organs from dead patients without the permission of relatives. That there is a shortage of organs suitable for transplantation - particularly for those patients who desperately need new kidneys - is a serious problem. But new rules forcing the public to "opt out" of donating their organs rather than "opting in", as at present, is not the solution. A large number of people would find the element of compulsion repugnant. The Government and the BMA should use persuasion to convince more people to carry organ donor cards because it is the right thing to do; but to give the State the automatic right to own each part of our dead bodies would set a deeply disturbing precedent.

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The Guardian

THE BMA'S suggested new system of "presumed consent" would mean anything could be removed from any dead body unless the person had registered their determination to take their organs with them to the grave. Already haunting images are being floated of organ donor vans chasing after ambulances of parents given their child's body back with half of it missing; of Hindus finding themselves reincarnated with some of the vital bits missing, of Jews and Muslims outraged at forbidden mutilation. Worst of all, doctors might become predators, untimely ripping organs from still living patients. (Polly Toynbee)

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