Going by surveys, there's no real need to talk about organ donation. 90 per cent of people agree: when or – let's be optimistic for once – if we die, making healthy organs available for transplant is the right thing to do. Funny then, when skin comes to scalpel, just 24 per cent of UK citizens are registered donors. Less funny by far – falling through this gap between principle and practice are the 1,000 patients who die from organ failure each year, and the 8,000 others left to wait in limbo.
So an argument that looks like it's already been won clearly has distance to go yet. Doctors speak of crisis levels. The Welsh Assembly proposes shifting to an "opt-out" scheme, whereby patients are automatically placed on the donor register, from as early as 2015. In Westminster, the British Medical Association has called for the same thing – and an organ sourcing taskforce is already in place ("hearts and minds" the unspoken motto).
But why does government have to coax us into putting money where, apparently, our mouth already is?
It's not that we lack for inspirational stories. Just last week the family of a 14-year-old girl gave doctors the OK to transplant their daughter's organs the day she died from an asthma attack, an act of awful bravery that saved five other children.
Those who argue against an 'opt-out' system often say that all donations should be like these parents' - a gift. But while people continue to die because there's not enough livers and kidneys to go round, that effectively decrees that donors' sense of altruism is a trump-card. It shouldn't be. And the argument goes one step further. Keeping a brain-dead body alive so doctors can fillet organs better is known as "elective ventilation", a piece of double-speak that disguises what is in truth a grisly, Frankenstinian process. Yet heebie-jeebies shouldn't stop this from being standard practice, either.
Nobody - religious or otherwise - claims that the body lives on: believe what you will about the spirit, surely the best way to send one off is facilitating more life.
Systems change sluggishly. In the meantime, us excreting, digesting, detoxifying organ sacks can act. One reason 76 percent of citizens haven't already signed up as donors is that altruistic payback isn't incentive enough to face up to what many assume will be a pile of admin.
In fact, the donor form is, for such a sombre matter, almost worryingly short. I counted ten clicks through it last night and - hey presto - recycling awaits. In a world of social media campaigns that offer readers moral hits for simply adding their name to a petition, these clicks are that rare thing, an easy gesture that, somewhere down the line, can benefit another human being on a one-to-one basis (though a large part of you won't live to see it). So hand over the giblets; at the very least it's reason to feel - briefly, minorly, cheaply - connected.
- More about:
- Social Media
- The Brain