Friday, October 19, 2007

Brits are not selfish post-Thatcherites after all

One could be forgiven for thinking that the post-Thatcherite Brits, having elected the warmongerer and privatisation fanatic Mr Blair (also better known as US President's Busch's poodle) to be PM a few times, would be a fairly selfish bunch showing little concern for those in need. After all, if even the Labour Party in that country gets into the business of privatising public education and hospital care one would not expect a great deal of civic mindedness among the citizens that elect such governments.

Well, if you thought like this, you could not be more mistaken! The British Medical Association (a doctors' trade union) conducted a survey of patients' views on organ donation. The UK system, much like the Canadian system, requires people to opt-in so that their organs may be utilised in case of their death. The problem with this system is, essentially, that because many of us are too lazy or too forgetful, we forget to sign the relevant forms and as a result when unexpected death hits us, for instance on the road, our organs cannot be utilised to preserve the lives of people in need of transplant organs. Thousands of lives are lost each year, simply because we are phlegmatic, lazy or ignorant about this important issue. It has long been suggested that we have a moral obligation toward out fellow citizens in need. For that reason it makes more sense to operate a system where we presume that a given dying accident victim, for instance, is presumed to be ok with the organ extraction instead of saying that if there's no signature saying 'you may use my organs' we may not use them. In other words, instead of actively opting in you must actively opt out to selfishly (yes, I mean it!) take your complete set of organs to your grave (so they may be eaten by worms instead...). The same phlegmatism, laziness and ignorance that is the root cause of today's insufficient supply of transplant organs would be utilised to save lives.

2/3 of 2,000 Brits interviewed in the above mentioned survey confirmed that they support the presumed consent idea. That's a strong democratic majority if this was true across the country and the survey was representative. This contrasts with only 1 in 4 Brits being on the organ donation register.

Of course, waiting for politicians to act on this, is probably as futile as waiting for them to legalise voluntary euthanasia. They have long understood that such decisions are no vote winners, so they stay clear of making them. What's new?


  1. Why, that's a great idea. Pat on the back for the two-thirds of Brits in favour. Pity it won't work in South Africa; most, if not all, black South Africans believe that if you arrive in the hereafter minus, say, a kidney or two, your ancestors won't be able to recognize you. I suppose that's as good an excuse as any. Other people, rather than being 'selfish', may not like the idea of having their organs yanked out of them when they're not quite gone yet, i.e. 'only' brain-dead. Isn't that what happens?

  2. To me, this one is a no-brainer. Of course we should go for an opt-out, rather than opt-in, scheme. But of course, there are always wing-nut bioethicists around who are prepared to argue differently on any issue ... After all, Kass has argued in the past that organ transplants are morally forbidden because they are analogous to cannibalism.


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