Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Transplant Games

I've carried a donor card for over twenty years - I think I was fourteen when I first filled one out. I've made it clear that when I finally shuffle off this mortal coil, any bits of my body that I haven't worn out or otherwise put beyond use are fair game. If anyone can make use of bits of me to keep another human alive, then I'm happy to see them reused - the ultimate recycling, I suppose. When I'm dead, whatever made me an individual has gone - all that's left is, to put it bluntly, meat. And I'll be in no real position to care.

Yet, I was still a little uneasy about the proposals for presumed consent over organ transplants. Perhaps my lapsed Catholicism was staging a revival.

The truth is that under the current opt-in system, a thousand people a year die. A thousand husbands, wives, sons, daughters and friends.

To quote La Toynbee in the Guardian this week.
Imagine if the government promised there would be no murders next year (755), plus no pedal cycle deaths (146); or no pedestrian deaths (675); or no motorbike deaths (599); or no deaths from falling down stairs (1,000). Imagine if the NHS could promise no deaths from cervical cancer (1,061) or from bone cancer (1,007).

It isn't as if we're opposed to the general idea - 90% of us back transplantation, but that only 25% of us bother to carry a donor card and not even that many tell their next of kin. It is a difficult question for hospital staff to ask somebody who is just about to lose a loved one, but one of our key problems is supply. If nothing else, this will kick start conversations around dinner and breakfast tables across the country, so more people will be aware of their family's wishes in the event that the worst happens.

I don't buy the argument proposed by the libertarian nutters who argue that this is the state taking ownership of your corpse. The state already dictates what we can do with our body - whether we can inject it with drugs, at what age we can drink or smoke and when we're allowed to have sex. We aren't going to have modern-day grave robbers, but professional transplant teams to handle the whole process. Don't the rights of the living trump those of the dead?

There will still be the opt-out for the real refuseniks who have a visceral objection to the whole transplant business, but for a thousand people a year who don't have the option of life, there's a glimmer of hope.

That's a hell of a good way to celebrate 60 years of the NHS.


Michael said...

I am a big believer in transplants as well.

I hold out little hope that such a sensible policy will ever take root on my side of the Atlantic, due to my country currently being run by flaming nutjobs.

Praguetory said...

Hear, hear. Let us know if you manage to fathom MS's objection?