Our bodies are not an asset of the state – Archbishop of Cardiff on organ donation proposals

Archbishop George Stack Of Cardiff, in a strongly worded criticism of the Welsh government’s proposals on presumed consent for organ donations, has insisted that ‘our bodies are not an asset of the state’.

‘Archbishop of Cardiff George Stack has warned that “our bodies are not an asset of the state”.

His attack on the proposals from the Labour Welsh Government follow similar opposition by Anglican Archbishop of Wales Barry Morgan.

The Catholic leader said this was an example of when there were “differing views of what constitutes the common good”.

He said: “Here in Wales in particular, I think of the current consultation on a law proposing presumed consent for the donation of organs after death. I agree with my fellow church leaders that our organs should be donated as a gift to others and not as a duty.

“The dignity of the human person demands that our autonomy be respected in this profoundly important area.”

The Anglican Archbishop of Wales Barry Morgan stated in September 2011:

“Giving organs is the most generous act of self-giving imaginable, but it has to be a choice that is freely embraced, not something the state assumes. Put more crudely, it can turn volunteers into conscripts.”

Last year, Newport West Labour MP Paul Flynn called for the debate to go beyond “prattling prelates and procrastinating politicians” and focus on meeting the needs of thousands of people who require organ donations.

However, Conservative Montgomeryshire MP Glyn Davies has argued that international evidence shows that introducing presumed consent is not the best way of increasing the numbers of donors. The group Patient Concern has warned that under the proposed system “everyone would be turned into conscripts or conscientious objectors”.

In November the findings of a study published by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine – one of the world’s leading medical institutions – concluded that an opt-out system was not the best way of solving the shortage of donors in the United States and raised “sticky” ethical issues.

Dorry L Segev, who led the research, said: “Opt-out is not the magic bullet; it will not be the magic answer we have been looking for.

“With opt-out the perception becomes, ‘We will take your organs unless you take the time to fill out a form’.

“That’s a dangerous perception to have.

“We only want to use donated organs from people who intended to donate.”

His team studied 13 European nations with presumed consent legislation and concluded: “It does not appear that by simply having presumed consent legislation on the books that donation rates will rise.”

Protect the Pope comment: The Catholic Church encourages organ donation after death as ‘a noble and meritorious act and is to be encouraged as a expression of generous solidarity’. (CCC 2296).

However, the Church also upholds the strict principle that such donations are only moral if ‘the donor or his proxy has given explicit consent’. The Welsh Government’s proposal to introduce presumed consent breaks this principle of ‘explicit consent’.  This principle of explicit consent is important because it respects the dignity of the human being as a moral agent.

Bishop George Stack is right to express the criticism that the Welsh government’s proposals will reduce every Welsh person’s organs  assets of the state unless they explicitly opt out of the scheme.  One of the questions that follows from this is, if the Welsh state has a surplus of organs will they sell them on the open market to raise revenue? Will Welsh body parts become just another natural resource or commodity?




6 comments to Our bodies are not an asset of the state – Archbishop of Cardiff on organ donation proposals

  • What is not mentioned here is that for many vital organs (eg the heart) it is essential that the donor is still alive (by traditional definitions); once the blood stops circulating, the heart and some other organs deteriorate too rapidly to be donated. To overcome this, medics have invented a new definition of death, to enable them to remove organs from ‘heart-beating donors.’ See my blog for details and references (tagged Organ donation)

  • Karla

    I am glad to this criticism from the Archbishop. Hope it has influence on the government in Wales.

  • Sophie

    The dirty little secret of organ donation in both the US and the UK is that the vast majority of harvested organs and body parts do not, in point of fact, go to live on in needy individuals. Given what Ben says above, donated body parts then go toward laboratory research and medical device testing.
    Both perfectly laudable enterprises. But there is a roaring trade in these body parts with the average cadaver bringing around $80,000 if pieced out for the major joints.
    Until and unless those who control what happens to the vast majority of donated human tissue are willing to be a whole lot more transparent, up to and including sharing the income with heirs, with what happens after you donate your body, people will always be leery of doing it.
    No organ donation program will guarantee for you that if you don’t have harvestable organs which can benefit other living individuals, you wont end up parceled out to labs. If countries want to increase donations, start there.

  • James Hughes

    I am pretty sure that this will not in fact make these politicians rethink their strategy. There a number of matters which no doubt will arise . Firstly would I be right in assuming that the new rules will only apply to those of welsh origin? Secondly my organs and those of my loved ones are not assets of the Welsh state and any removal without consent having been freely given will put the harvesters in mortal danger because ,If I am still alive and any organs are taken without consent from any and all of my children I will require restitution from the morons who passed this legislation.

    • Karla

      And what of the mentally impaired and disabled, what if they can not put across that they do not want their organs donated, but are automatically assumed to because of the law. What if somebody from England passes away in Wales, are they going to be under welsh law if they haven’t oped out. If they are taken to a hospital and there is only short time to retrieve the organs are they not going to go go ahead? The proposals are wrong on so many levels.

  • Nicolas Bellord

    Good to see Archbishop Stack taking a strong line.

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