A proposal by England's chief medical officer,Sir Liam Donaldson, to introduce a system of 'presumed consent' to tackle organ shortages and endorsed by the British Medical Association, has been met with outrage by the liberal blogosphere.
Conservative shadow health secretary, Andrew Lansley, rightly said
"The state does not own our bodies or have a right to take organs after death."
And a system of presumed consent has already been rejected by MPs when they voted on the Human Tissues Act in 2004.
But here's the problem;
Due to advances in medical technology, young people are not dying young anymore. Hence the pool of suitable organs is shrinking. Only 46% of families consent to organ donation resulting in about 360 deaths per year from failures to find a suitable donor. And efforts to persuade more people to either carry donor cards or sign up to the NHS Organ Donor Register has failed, according to Sir Liam. Only 20% of the population are on the register, despite the fact that surveys showed that as many as 70% of people wanted to donate their organs after death.
i.e. apathy is the problem not principle.
Two European countries offer evidence of what will happen if donor consent is presumed.
i) Spain; donation rates have almost doubled since a system of presumed consent was introduced in 1990. Spain runs a so-called "soft" opt-out system, where even if the person has not themselves opted out of donation while alive, the views of relatives are sought and they can refuse consent.
ii) Austria runs a very strict system where the views of relatives are not taken into account at all. After Vienna passed the presumed consent law in 1982, the donation rate quadrupled and by 1990 the number of kidney transplants performed was nearly equal to those on the waiting list.
To the outraged libertarians;
i) people can opt out if they do not wish their organs to be used. No-one is being forced to donate organs.
ii) even if the person forgets to opt out, the views of their families are still sought.
iii) 360 lives may be saved by this simple piece of legislation.
I fail to be outraged.