The Anscombe Bioethics Centre has warned that a new donation system of deemed consent, which will come into force in May, is a euphemism for “taking organs without express consent” and could see a drop in transplant rates, rather than an increase.
The Government announced the new law – known as Max and Keira’s law – will come into effect on 20th May, subject to parliamentary approval, as part of a move designed to boost the number of transplants.
It is estimated that the opt-out method will lead to an additional 700 transplants each year by 2023.
However, the Anscombe Bioethics Centre, a Roman Catholic academic institute engaging with the moral questions arising in clinical practice and biomedical research, warned that the change in law highlights many ethical problems and could even see donor numbers fall.
Professor David Albert Jones, director of the Anscombe Bioethics Centre, pointed out that while the Catholic Church has consistently supported organ donation after death as a noble and meritorious act, it is essential that the act is expressly one of donation, either by the person who has died or by those closest to the person, who can speak on his or her behalf.
“St John Paul II emphasised that organ donation can be a great good, but that taking organs without express consent ‘would no longer correspond to an act of donation but would amount to the dispossession or plundering of a body’,” Prof. Jones told The Catholic Universe.
Prof. Jones said it is “extremely regrettable” that the practice of voluntary organ donation is being undermined by a change in the law which will allow taking organs without the express consent of the person or of his or her relatives.
“‘Deemed consent’ is a euphemism for taking organs without express consent, and this is no longer donation,” he said.
He also warned that while the aim is to have access to more donors, such a change in law could have the adverse effect. “The rationale for this harsh law is that it would cause a great increase in transplants. In Wales when they changed the law it was claimed that organ transplantation would increase ‘by up to 25 per cent’.
“However, in the two years after a deemed consent law was introduced transplant rates actually went down in Wales while they went up in England and Scotland.
“Transplant rates continue to fluctuate from year to year but there is no evidence that significantly more transplants have occurred in Wales because of the law and the claim that the law in England ‘will lead to an additional 700 transplants each year by 2023’ is entirely bogus.”
Prof. Jones also pointed out that while the law permits the taking of organs where nothing is known of the person’s wishes and where the family objects, it does not mandate it.
“It is still possible for health workers to act in a sensitive and a humane way in consulting the relatives,” he said. “Indeed, the Code of Practice encourages this. It is to be hoped that despite this inhumane and unnecessary law, the actual practice will remain one of donation and of respect for the dead and for the relatives.”
Prof. Jones has also encouraged people to discuss their wishes on the matter of organ donation with their families and friends.
“Organ transplantation can raise other ethical questions, such as the determination of death by ‘brain death’ criteria and such as the pressure that a family may put on someone to be a live organ donor,” he said.
“Organ donation is something to think about and talk about especially with family and close friends, and to help with this the Anscombe Centre has a guide to some of the ethical issues raised.”
To read the Anscombe Centre’s guide see: http://bioethics.org.uk/Ontheethicsoforgantransplantationfinal.pdf
Picture: An NHS Organ Donor Card. (NHS Blood and Transplant/PA).