Thomas Sutcliffe: Have a heart and sign up to organ donation

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I like to think of it as a classic The Thick of It plot twist.

Already fed up of general Hainery, Number 10 had made it clear that the highest priority for the weekend was to get the words "donor" and "registration" off the front pages. Some bright spark in the press office looks through the diary and sees that the Government task force on organ transplantation is due to report this week and realises that it's a perfect story. . . one with heart, you might say.

Surely this can be pitched as one of the small but decisive improvements that the Brown government has brought about in British life. And it's only after the calls have been made that it's realised it will be very difficult to write the story without using the words "donor" and "registration" repeatedly, and that the disinterested altruism of the words in this context makes a rather pointed contrast with their implications in another.

Never mind, the subject is an important one, and some kind of improvement on the current system is long overdue. It should really be a scandal that usable organs are going into the ground or up a crematorium chimney when people die daily for want of them. It is cruelly illogical, the only problem being that logic, for understandable reasons, has very little purchase on the recently bereaved. Disassembly and component retrieval are the last things you want to be thinking about if someone you love has just died. Which is why a lot of people instinctively refuse permission for organs to be taken and the idea of scandal attaches itself instead to the notion that people might not have a choice.

Sir Liam Donaldson homed in on the anguish of relatives when he was putting the case for "presumed consent"– a system that would automatically put everyone on the donor list unless they had ruled themselves out. "Families are being approached when they are in a very distressed condition and, faced with uncertainty, their default position is to refuse consent", he said.

This implied that families wouldn't be unnecessarily bothered should "presumed consent" be adopted – which is surely misleading. No system could afford to take the risk of not clearing with relatives first that they understood that organs were to be removed. So families would still be approached when they were in a distressed condition. But a change in policy would psychologically transform that difficult moment in several vital ways.

First of all, the person approaching could not be categorised as an impertinent intruder, hovering with carrion-crow eagerness to take something of value away. They would instead be there to ensure that you understood the routine after a death, and check that you had no objections to that routine. In other words they would be doing something for you, instead of asking you to do something for them.

Secondly, relatives would not be required to weigh up an emotionally fraught decision at a time when they can barely think, so much as acknowledge and concur with a decision already taken by someone else, a subtle but important shift of responsibility.

Thirdly, the very fact that the decision had been made in favour of organ donation would send a quiet message about social expectations in this area. Refusal would remain an option – and should always be available free of any guilt – but it would be significantly less likely. It can't happen soon enough, I think. And since it won't, we should do the next best thing and put ourselves on the register. I've just done it online and it took less than a minute. No government can move as fast as you can.

A strange way of showing it

"I always followed my heart and I never missed a beat," sang Ringo Starr in "Liverpool 8", kicking off the City of Culture celebrations.

A debatable boast, that, and not helped by a lyric in which he mangles natural spoken stresses to make his rhymes work. And I wasn't entirely convinced by his explanation of how his love for his native city isn't remotely compromised by his apparent reluctance to live there.

"Destiny was calling", he explains, "I just couldn't stick around ... Liverpool, I left you, but I never let you down."

Not for him to say, and in any case, the implication that Destiny doesn't have an address on Merseyside seems an odd way to celebrate the city's cultural centrality.

* Patricia Cornwell's decision to invite members of her fanbase to produce a television advert for the paperback publication of her latest book underlines the fact that no professional mystery can be safely insulated from the chilly winds of the digital revolution.

Readers, or wannabe copy-writers and directors, are invited to upload a 20-second video or submit a storyboard or script. If one of the former is chosen the winner gets £2,500.

If it's the latter they just get to see their work produced for a Channel 5 campaign, having granted a royalty-free licence for exploitation "by all means and in any media now known or hereinafter invented throughout the universe".

A sum of £2,500 wouldn't buy you advice on a small ad from a conventional agency, let alone a completed film, so this is something of a bargain, I would have thought. And even if you still need a conventional agency to do your media buying, it can't be long before those valuable mid-evening slots are available on Airtime eBay.

t.sutcliffe@independent.co.uk

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