The UK government is currently consulting on whether the system for organ donation in England should be changed to an opt-out system. The government is seeking responses to their consultation from people of all backgrounds and faiths. You can respond to the consultation here for which the deadline is March 6th. Our resource ‘Sharing the gift of life?’ grapples with some of the issues surrounding organ donation and presumed consent. We would encourage you to use the resource in your reflections on this issue.
The law on organ donation is complicated and differs across the UK. Wales operates an opt-out system for organ donation, and the Scottish government has indicated that they plan to follow suit. This means that adults are deemed to have consented to organ donation unless they have opted out. This is distinct to the system in other parts of the UK where the individual has to consent to having their organs donated before death, or if their wishes have not been made explicit close relations are able to make a decision on whether or not those organs are donated.
Currently there is a shortfall in organs available for transplant. On average three people in need of an organ transplant die each day in the UK. Although 80% of people when surveyed say that they would be willing to donate their organs after death, only 36% of people have recorded this decision. It is believed that an opt-out system would lead to the number of donors on the register more closely reflecting the number of people willing to donate.
However, there are a number of concerns about an opt-out system. It is expected that, as people tend to not communicate their views on donation, there will be people who will not register their objection to donation. For some the idea that a person’s organs would be taken without their consent is unconscionable. People have strong and understandable beliefs that a person should have the right to determine what happens to their body after death. Furthermore, in certain cultures respect for the body after death makes organ donation a taboo the occurrence of which would cause significant harm to the family. Finally, a number of groups continue to hold the fear that organ harvesting might actually be exploitative and happen when a person is not really on their death bed. The question of trust in medical professionals and their judgment has to continue to be addressed.
Christians have a range of views. There is strong support for organ donation, but there was concern amongst some when the opt-out system was proposed in Wales, with some Churches and Christian groups expressing concern about deemed consent. Archbishop Barry Morgan said at the time, “Giving organs is the most generous act of self-giving imaginable, but it has to be a choice that is freely embraced, not something the state assumes. Put more crudely, it can turn volunteers into conscripts.” The Churches’ view of life, and the body, as a free gift from a boundlessly generous God was at odds with a presumption of consent. Churches have recognised the value of such a gift, which can lead to grace and meaning from tragic events. Since the system was introduced in Wales, the Churches have actively promoted people signing up to the organ donation register.
The Church of Scotland, the Baptist Union, the United Reformed Church and the Methodist Church are all supporters of the fleshandblood campaign. This campaign was founded in 2012 in partnership with NHS Blood and Transplant the UK’s special health authority responsible for saving and improving lives through its national blood and organ donation programmes. The campaign encourages Christians to see blood and organ donation as a part of their giving. It suggests a range of things we can do, including holding blood donation days in our Churches, and thinking seriously about signing up to donor registers ourselves.
For our Churches the gift of an organ, or indeed the simple gift of blood is an important voluntary act on the part of the individual. Have you added your name to the organ donation register? In addition we would encourage you to respond to the consultation on organ donation which ends on the 6th March.