Automatic organ donation: the pros and cons

Jan 15, 2016

More than 6,500 people are waiting for an organ transplant

More than 500 bereaved families have overruled the wishes of relatives who have offered organs for donation since 2010, according to figures released by the NHS. That amounts to one person in seven on the organ donation register.

In future, the NHS will no longer seek family members' consent as a matter of routine, and relatives who wish to veto the wishes of a patient will have to set out their objections in writing.

The 547 donors who were prevented from passing on their organs could have helped about 1,200 patients, the NHS said. There are currently more than 6,500 people on waiting lists for organs

The pros and cons of automatic organ donation

Arguments for automatic organ donation:

  • More than 6,500 people in the UK need a transplant, but a shortage of donors means that fewer than 3,000 transplants are carried out annually.
  • Advances in medical science mean that the number of people whose lives could be saved by a transplant is rising more rapidly than the number of willing donors.
  • The law as it stands condemns many, some of them children, to an unnecessary death, simply because of the shortage of willing donors while, as the BMA puts it, 'bodies are buried or cremated complete with organs that could have been used to save lives'.
  • Doctors and surgeons can be trusted not to abuse the licence which a change of the law would grant them.
  • Objections to a change in the law are sheer sentimentality. A dead body is an inanimate object, incapable of feeling.

Arguments for automatic organ donation:

  • Few question the value of transplant operations or the need for more donors. But a programme designed to recruit more donors is preferable to a change in the law.
  • The proposed change implies that our bodies belong to the State as soon as we are dead. The assumption is offensive.
  • Organ removal without the expressed wish of the deceased could be distressing for his or her family.
  • The proposed change in the law is open to abuse, with the possibility of death being hastened to secure an organ needed by some other patient.
  • The safeguard - that is, the right to refuse permission for your organs to be removed - is inadequate. A terminally ill patient or his/her relatives would be made to feel selfish if permission was withheld.
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