Hot off the press – My body, my choice? Presumed consent in organ donation

Saturday 28 October, 12:0013:00, Free StageHot off the press

The need for human organs for transplant has arguably never been greater. While around 1,400 organ transplants were carried out in 2015/16, nearly 500 people died while waiting for such a transplant. Today, there are currently over 6,500 people currently on the NHS waiting list, hoping to receive an organ for transplant.

To address this need, both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn have recently announced proposals to extend the Welsh system to England, changing the current law governing organ donation to adopt a system of presumed consent. Under this system, a deceased patient will be presumed to have consented to his or her organs being used to benefit another, unless they specifically objected to it. Many have welcomed the increased supply of organs for sick patients that this change of law could provide. But others are concerned, with one religious commentator describing it as ‘state-mandated nationalisation and plundering of the organs of every individual in the country upon their death’, one which contradicts arguments about autonomy and consent that have become common in relation to abortion, assisted suicide and sex. Moreover, what was once an act of generosity, of solidarity with the ill, is to be made compulsory, undermining a moral choice for individuals.

Questions that arise from this issue include whether a person’s bodily autonomy ends upon their death, and if so, does this mean that the state may reasonably assume rights of possession over the corpse? Are these proprietary rights exclusive to an intention to benefit others? Should the deceased’s relatives have a right to overrule this assumption in the absence of a recorded objection while the patient was still alive? And should the needs of the living prevail over the wishes of the dead?