Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Mandatory organ donation?

BBC news reports that the British house of Lords has been contemplating its participation in the European Union's organ donor pool. Specifically, whether it should be an opt-in program, where donors must explicitly state their desire to participate, or an opt-out program, where citizens are considered donors by default, unless they specifically opt out.

According to an article ath the BBC news website:
The UK is currently considering switching from an opt-in to an opt-out system, in the hope of meeting a chronic organ shortage.

The article also states:
The Church of England has declared organ donation to be a Christian duty, in keeping with giving oneself and one's possessions freely.

Body parts should not be mistaken for the person themselves, and the best way to treat them reverently is to use them to heal others, the Church said.

The Anglican Church officials would not state a preference for an opt-in or opt-out program.

Though it encourages organ donation, the Catholic Church does not elevate organ donation to the level of being one's required duty. Paragraph 2296 of The Catechism of the Catholic Church says the following about organ donation:

Organ transplants are in conformity with the moral law if the physical and psychological dangers and risks to the donor are proportionate to the good that is sought for the recipient. Organ donation after death is a noble and meritorious act and is to be encouraged as an expression of generous solidarity. It is not morally acceptable if the donor or his proxy has not given explicit consent. Moreover, it is not morally admissible directly to bring about the disabling mutilation or death of a human being, even in order to delay the death of other persons.

A mandatory donor program, where the default position is for every citizen to be a donor, unless s/he opts out creates a problem in the area of explicit consent. If a person is unaware of this program, or for any reason unable to submit the necessary paperwork to "opt-out," his or her organs may be removed without explicit consent. I suspect that those in favor of such a program know that this may be the case, as they expect it to solve the organ shortage problem. Clearly, they know that people who would not explicitly volunteer will become donors by default under an opt-out policy.

Add to this that the legal definition of death (at least here in the US) allows for the harvesting or organs from braindead persoons whose hearts are still beating. (See this blog post by an anesthesiology resident involved in such a procedure--be warned that it is somewhat disturbing) Sometimes, according to this, anesthesia is not included. The BBC article makes no mention of any provisions to be made to protect the braindead or the terminally ill from exploitative organ harvesting.

While generosity with one's organs is to be encouraged, it should not be mandated by the state.

Related Links:
Searchable online Catechism

Hat tip: Christina Dunigan

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