The Joint Public Issues Team (JPIT) of the Methodist Church in Britain, the Baptist Union of Great Britain and the United Reformed Church has produced a free resource on the ethics of organ donation ahead of a change in the law in Wales. The resource is designed to help people think through questions around “presumed consent”, which will become legal in Wales from December 2015.
The free guide is entitled “Sharing the gift of life?” and is available to download from the JPIT website. It includes arguments, concerns and issues around organ donation, the rights and concerns of patients, personal experiences as well as a discussion on whether there is a distinctly Christian way of seeing the body. People are invited to use it for personal reflection or to support a group discussion.
James North, policy officer for the Methodist Church in Britain, said: “Presumed consent raises many questions, both for Christians and wider society. What do we understand by donating our organs or those of people we love? Will presumed consent increase or decrease organs available for donation?
Who has the greater moral say – the family of the organ donor or the person needing the organs? The resource has been prepared to help people think through some of these questions before presumed consent comes into effect in Wales in 2015 or is discussed more widely through the rest of the UK.”
In July 2013, the Welsh Assembly voted in favour of “presumed consent” for organ transplantation. Under this legislation, unless people explicitly opt out, they are regarded as having given consent to their organs being available for transplantation. This is a change from an opt-in to an opt-out system of organ donation. Northern Ireland has already held a consultation on presumed consent and Scotland is currently consulting on it. It is possible that similar proposals will be debated in England and that Bills to introduce presumed consent will be introduced in the rest of the UK , following Wales' lead.
According to NHS Organ Donation statistics, from 1 April 2012 to 31 March 2013, 1,160 lives were saved in the UK through a heart, lung, liver or combined heart/lungs, liver/kidney or liver/pancreas transplant.
The statistics also showed that 3,052 patients' lives were improved by a kidney or pancreas transplant, and 3,697 people had their sight restored through a cornea transplant. Around 1,000 people a year (almost three a day) will die waiting as there are not enough organs available.
James North added, 'The Methodist, Baptist and United Reformed Churches are strongly in favour of organ donation but don’t have a position on presumed consent. The debate in Wales has shown that many in our Churches find presumed consent an uneasy principle.
'Churches have an important role in supporting donors, recipients of organs, and their families, both pastorally and publically. “Sharing the gift of life” is intended to help Christians participate in the national discussion around presumed consent, so that the wonder of organ donation can be fulfilled in our society.'