We support medical advances for the improvement of human health and wellbeing. Humanists do not believe that respect for the dead constitutes any reason to object to allowing deceased humans’ organs to be used to help others, except when the deceased has expressed a contrary wish.
We believe that better public education about organ donation and transplantation is essential, and that policy actions at both state and European levels are needed in order to increase the number of organ transplants and so save more lives. We are concerned that the low number of organs donated across Europe is contributing to unnecessary suffering, a large number of unnecessary deaths and to a market in organs and even trafficking in human beings for the purpose of removing organs.
The UK operates an ‘opt-in’ donor scheme where people have to register themselves. However, it is often the case that those who would be happy to donate their organs fail to register or have never discussed the matter with their friends and family, so medical staff and close relatives may not be aware of their consent to help others after their deaths. This contributes to the low number of organs available.
The British Medical Association has suggested a ‘soft’ system of ‘presumed consent’, whereby organ donation (for those over the age of 16) would be the default position, but individuals could opt-out while alive. Next of kin would be informed after death that the individual had not opted out and asked if they are aware of any unregistered objection: this would make their decision easier than at present. If not, organs could be transplanted. We support this proposal, accompanied by a public information and education campaign. We support campaigns to encourage the public to discuss their wishes for the end of life, including organ donation, in advance.
What are we doing?
In 2008 the BHA made a submission to a House of Lords inquiry into organ donation, was consulted by the Organ Donation Taskforce, and gave oral evidence to the Welsh Assembly Government Committee Inquiry into Presumed Consent for Organ Donation, recommending that the UK adopt a presumed consent ‘opt-out’ organ donor scheme to replace the current ‘opt-in’ scheme. While the Organ Donation taskforce did not recommend the introduction of a system of presumed consent at the present time, it did recommend public investment into education about organ donation, which we welcomed.
Currently, the British Humanist Association is writing a leaflet about humanist perspectives on organ donation for the NHS Blood and Transplant section to add to their existing series of leaflets explaining organ donation from a variety of viewpoints and principles. These leaflets encourage people to think about organ donation and consider some of the issues and benefits involved.
What can you do?
The BHA consults with its members on the subjects of human tissues, embryo research, abortion, fertility, and many other scientific and ethical issues. We welcome your comments on these subjects, which help us to form our campaigns.
Join the Organ Donor Register and help save lives after your death: http://www.uktransplant.org.uk/
You can email your MP to ask them to support calls for a “soft” presumed consent policy.
You can support the BHA by becoming a member. That helps in itself, and you can help even more by supporting our campaigns in the ways suggested above. But campaigns also cost money – quite a lot of money – and we also need financial support. You can make a donation to the BHA.