Making our organs the property of the state
In her speech at the Conservative Party conference this week, Theresa May pledged to change the organ-donor system in England, so that people will be listed as donors unless they opt out.
This pledge has been praised by many, including charities and medical associations, for its potential to save lives. Peter Storey, director of communications at Kidney Research UK, said in response to the PM’s pledge that a ‘soft’ system of presumed consent for organ donation ‘would help combat the severe shortage of donors in this country’.
Yet there is something uncomfortable about this expansion of the state’s power over our bodies. Sure, it may be a commendable thing to donate your organs in order to save another’s life, and there is nothing wrong with campaigning and encouraging more people to sign up to be donors. But it is deeply troubling to make state ownership over our bodies the default position. We’re effectively being asked to apply to the state for permission to decide what happens to us after we die.
An opt-out system was introduced in Wales and Scotland in 2015. In Wales, the rules on organ donation now state that ‘if you do nothing, we will regard you as having no objection to donating your organs. This is called deemed consent.’ This is rather disturbing. ‘Deemed consent’ is not consent at all. Simply being unaware of the law would still mean your body automatically becoming the state’s property when you die.
Opt-out organ donation expands the state’s power over the individual. There may be a shortage of donors, and doing more to encourage people to sign up is no bad thing. But a person should never have to opt out of state control. It is individual rights and choice that should always be the default position.
Emily Dinsmore is a writer.