To Be or Not to Be… an Organ Donor

Scotland considers a change to organ donation policy

The government of Scotland is considering adopting an “opt-out” organ donation policy, and the Catholic Church isn’t pleased. Under opt-out programs, also called “presumed consent,” a person is assumed to wish to donate their organs upon death if they (or their family) did not register indicating otherwise.

Anthony Horan, director of the Catholic Parliamentary Office, said of the policy:

Presumed consent effectively means state ownership of citizen’s organs until the citizen decides otherwise. It is a policy that seriously questions the need for the state to recognize the inherent dignity of each individual as, first and foremost, a human being and not just as a statistic.

To be clear, this is the same church that fails to ordain women to the priesthood, rejects the idea that women are equal to men, declares same-sex relationships to be evil, denies women access to birth control, and presumes control over a women’s body the moment she conceives (to name a few dignity gaps). The Catholic Church has no problem denying individuals their dignity and bodily autonomy, so why is it pushing this narrative on the state?

Wales initiated a presumed-consent program in December 2015, and almost immediately saw an increase in organ donations. In Belgium, organ recovery more than doubled following implementation of such a policy. Other countries with opt-out policies include Austria, France, Columbia, Norway, Italy, and Singapore.

An opt-out program could be very beneficial in the United States, where over 95 percent of the population supports organ donation, but only 45 percent are registered organ donors. Reasons why people don’t donate come down to inconvenience, misunderstanding, mistrust of the medical profession, confusion over brain death, and discomfort in talking about death. Opt-out programs also raise ethical questions.

The Catholic Church says that the Scottish Government should instead consider introducing new initiatives to encourage people to donate their organs rather than implement the opt-out policy. Introducing new initiatives are a great idea, as long as they’re effective. Organs grown in petri dishes have found success. In this case, DNA is taken directly from the person in need of the organ, so transfer complications are minimal. Another alternative is 3-D printing. Researchers have already successfully reproduced a number of body parts, but are still working on solid organs, and it may still be years before lab-grown organs become available. Meanwhile, we have a significant global need that must be addressed today.

One policy alternative is called “required response.” This program is largely implemented by routinely asking persons who interact with the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles if they want to donate their organs after death. Required response is believed to create a centralized uniform system for collecting organ donation information, replacing the inconsistent state-centered approach. Required response can address the large number of individuals who indicate in surveys that they haven’t signed up to donate organs simply because they believe they were never given the opportunity to. Additionally, declaring the decision through required response while we’re still alive eliminates the difficult decision for our family members and ensures that our after-death wishes are upheld.

Another alternative utilizes social media to provide incentives that increase organ donation rates. Much like required response, social media platforms have the capacity to create a database of donors through social declarations. Using the hashtags #organdonor or #organdonation, users can instantly register themselves as organ donors on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

In Scotland, people who don’t object to donating their organs may find themselves automatically signed up to do so. And those with objections might just have to take a simple step to declare that. Yes, even those with religious objections. It’s not really such a burden when you consider the number of lives that will surely be saved with more organs available for transplantation, is it?