Organ donation ‘gift’ could be undermined, critics warn

A ‘presumed consent’ system for organ donation would damage the principle of transplantation being a gift, and may fail to raise donation rates, concerned observers are saying.

The Government is currently consulting on ditching the current ‘opt-in’ system in England and on Friday MPs backed a Bill with the same aim.

A medical ethics group says the proposed opt-out regime is “based on poor evidence” while others caution that the “beautiful” gift of organ donation will be undermined.

Undermine trust

The comments came as politicians unanimously backed Geoffrey Robinson’s Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Bill and the Government promised its “wholehearted support”. The Bill will be scrutinised by a House of Commons Committee and the House of Lords.

the State should tread with immense care in matters best left to families

Dominic Lawson

Medical ethics group the Nuffield Council on Bioethics said there is good evidence that a range of other factors – such as encouraging family discussion – do increase the rate of donation.

Nuffield’s Director Hugh Whittall said: “We fully endorse the aim of increasing the rate of donated organs, but we are concerned that making a legislative change based on poor evidence risks undermining public trust in the organ donation system, and could have serious consequences for rates of organ donation.”

Tread carefully

Newspaper columist Dominic Lawson warned that assuming people consent to donation is a “purely utilitarian approach”, and said “the State should tread with immense care in matters best left to families”.

He commented: “To enforce Whitehall-directed compulsion in areas of the greatest sensitivity to families is a recipe for discontent and dislocation between society and the State. That can only be dangerous and destructive.

“So I hope when Geoffrey Robinson’s bill to enforce presumed consent for organ donation returns to the Commons for its third reading, there will be enough MPs with the moral courage to reject it.”

No positive evidence

Responding to the Government’s consultation for the Roman Catholic Church, Bishop Paul Mason urged people to consider voluntary organ donation.

He said plans for an opt-out system “undermine the concept of donation as a gift, and cross the line of what is a reasonable action for the state to take in relation to the individuals within it”.

And he noted that in Wales – where the system has already been introduced – there is no evidence it is having a positive effect on the donation rate.

Last year a former transplant chief spoke out against the opt-out system, saying it “may take away people’s faith and trust in organ donation”.