New Interventionism: Organ Donation


Gordon Brown announced on Sunday that he supports a change in the organ donor system that would see ‘presumed consent’. In other words, unless you opt-out or your family explicitly objects, it will be assumed that you have no problem with the removal of your internal organs.

I personally don’t mind what happens to my organs as long as I’m confirmed dead. However, ‘presumed consent’ is a step too far. This is not how things are supposed to work.

Death does not permit the government to seize property. If I suddenly keel over, and I or my next of kin fail to opt-out or object, it is not simply assumed that I want my money to go to people without money, or want my house to go to the homeless.

It is assumed that property passes on to the next of kin. And if organ donation is not explicitly ruled in, then technically, bodily property is entrusted with the same people, who then decide what should happen to it.

Organ donation is a right that belongs to the individual not the state. ‘Presumed consent’ is an afront to this principle, and reflects a broader trend of state interventionism.


11 thoughts on “New Interventionism: Organ Donation

  1. Some might disagree, but I don’t think the meaning of this policy should be underestimated. It fundamentally changes the very notion of self-ownership – The idea that I consent to the state, that I give to the state, and not the other way around.

    Organ donation, which is a charity, I suppose, should be promoted like any other form of giving. It saves lives, quite literally. For the state to presume consent, however, I would be inclined to say is a step too far. Maybe there is an acceptable compromise between these two scenarios.

  2. Gordon voted against this in 2004. In 2006 his son James was born with CF. If you were PM you’d change the rules wouldn’t you?

    In all seriousness I am in favour of this legislation if the right safeguards are in place. In Spain presumed consent exists in law, but is not enforced (i.e. the family is still consulted). I like this type of arrangement.

  3. persuasion not legislation would be effective in this situation. however there does need to be a review of organ donation seeming as we have so many people awaiting live saving transplants.

  4. “If you were PM you’d change the rules wouldn’t you?” Actually, no.

    Under Gordon Brown’s proposals, consultation with the family would be sought. However, if the law is changed to presumed consent, the family would only be able to object. This isn’t good enough. The family should be asked for their consent, and if consent is unattainable, and the patient themselves is not able to provide consent, then nothing should be presumed.

  5. Dominic is quite right (not about Conservative Future being present when Brown’s baby was born though – sorry, I’ll get me coat).

    I’ve seen this free-market tripe applied to so many different landmark policies, being used as an excuse for various things, including refusing services to gays, etc. But to imagine we’re still talking about a corpse being a piece of tangible capital would be amusing, if it were not for the fact that the capital is in fact priceless – it can provide life to another, yet will only perish as quickly as the respirator is turned off otherwise. I don’t think there is any real suggestion of organs being removed when families (or donors) object, and this is not the sort of issue that people will be blissfully unaware of, so people are very likely to remain opted in (or rather, “not opted out”) through ignorance. I can’t see a reasonable and ethical argument against it… unless of course you’re just riddled with fear that your organ might end up inside a benefit claimant or asylum seeker, in which case I can understand why the Conservative Future clientele might object.

  6. I, John, was making a principled argument.

    It is funny how you can accuse me of placing a material value on organs, considering you are the one arguing for their re-distribution in the same way you might argue for a re-distribution of capital. I do think that organs are priceless, but that does not mean the state has a right to presume ownership.

    On the contrary, the state has no rights. In the case of organ donation the right to accept, reject or simply say nothing, belongs to the individual or their next of kin. The state can only ask for consent, nothing more.

    You may dismiss this as free market tripe, but I feel very strongly that this is an important individual right. But then I guess this probably goes to root of our different politics.

    Your suggestion that I fear my organs will end-up inside a benefit claimant or an asylum seeker, isn’t funny john.

  7. I think this is the kind of thing where noone can be mocked for having either viewpoint. As a free vote issue I would only advance my personal view, not attack anothers.

  8. Daniel,

    For what it’s worth, I credit your good self with a bit more compassion than my closing remark would suggest, although some of the commentators of your esteemed blog do appear to be avid gutter press readers, sometimes peeling their rhetoric straight from the fine pages of such fine journals.

    My excited and self-indulgent sniping at your visiting bigots aside, I actually think you make a credible point, though I do get a little defensive when I see another “New Labour Nanny State” blog pop up, I must admit. It should be an individual right to decide what one should do with ones organs, but there are also a number of other, perhaps more pressing human rights, such as that of the right to life. The statistics from the “opt-in and double check with the relatives” system that we currently have speak for themselves, but I’m not sure we need to refer to the statistics – if just one life has been lost when it could have been saved, but the potential donor who wouldn’t have objected to donation just didn’t get round to opting in AND informing relatives, etc, etc, then I think it is a failure.

    I believe the ultimate goal is a system that values the right to life, and espouses an attitude which encourages citizens to respect life. In that case, I believe the default must be for organs to be donated unless expressed otherwise. Just as, and coming back to your property argument, if I were to die intestate, I would risk having my estate being given to HMRC. Writing a will (or opting out of organ donation for that matter) practically eliminates that risk.

    If an opt out system were to go wrong on a very small number of occasions, the disastrous result might be a dead person who wanted to be buried with their organs intact being buried without some of them. If the system works perfectly, however, we’ll have a smaller number of what we have at an epidemic level at the moment – some dead people’s life-saving organs rotting in a grave, whilst others are left counting the days they have left before they get to join them.

    The solution is simple – a well-publicised system of assumed consent, where those wishing to withhold that consent simply subscribe to a register. If everyone is aware of it, all you have done is changed the onus to the objector rather than the assentor, and I fundamentally disagree with you that doing that is wrong. This would be progressive and entirely about protecting the rights of the alive and vulnerable, rather than the dead… though I guess “this probably goes to the root of our different politics.”

  9. John, your thinking is muddled.

    1. I would argue that the rights of the individual are of paramount importance. After all, it is the donor’s organs we are talking about. Right to life is, of course, a human right, but it does not sanction the presumed ownership of another person’s organs.

    One could argue that access to drinking water is a human right. However, this does not sanction those without access to take water from others. They can press their case and ask the owner’s consent to use their water supply, but the default position cannot be presumed access.

    2. On the point about property. If I was to die without making a will, and I had assets, the default position is that these assets are inherited by my next of kin. The state does not give the next of kin the simple option to reject before assuming a default position of state ownership. In a case where there is no next of kin, then a court of law will judge what happens to the individual’s capital, not the state. This is necessary with capital, as humans only ever hold capital temporarily.

    3. I come back to my original point about the rights of the state. It doesn’t have any, and any rights it does have it only holds with the consent of the electorate. In the case of organ donation, I would argue that individuals should retain their rights to accept, reject or say nothing, either in response to or in absence of, their consent being sought.

    4. The fact that you have such a high-handed approach to the fundamental rights of individuals, is certainly the root of our different politics.

  10. I don’t consider this to be a party matter. My support for this is consistent with other pro-life policies I favour. I fully expect people across the political spectrum to agree and disagree with my position. I like a good argument though. I appreciate John following Bridget’s example using my real name. Is this tactic de rigueur?

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