Vince Cable backs opt-out organ donation system

I’ve seen people go through the pain of losing someone they love because a transplant didn’t happen in time. I’ve seen people, in shock at having lost someone suddenly and tragically being put under the added pressure of deciding whether their loved one’s organs should be donated. Maybe they hadn’t even had the conversation and didn’t know what their wishes would be. Maybe it was pain too far.

I’ve always made it clear to my family that should it be me, anything that would make anyone else have a chance of improved life should be used. I’ve signed up to the organ donor register. However, not everyone who would be happy to donate their organs has got round to filling in the form.

That’s why I’ve always favoured an opt-out system. It means that anyone who objects to their organs being used has the right to ensure that it doesn’t happen to them. And if you do object, you will make sure that you have opted out. This is one of these issues where there are liberal arguments for both sides. For me, as long as there are proper safeguards for people, opting out is the way to go.

So I was very pleased to see that Vince Cable has backed The Mirror’s campaign for an opt out donor system.

He told them:

“There are around 6,500 people in the UK waiting for a transplant. I urge the Government to listen to this campaign and the calls of countless families across the country.

“We can ensure more lives and more children like little Max are saved. I’m proud to be a registered organ donor. I carry my card everywhere. It was an obvious choice.”

The “little Max” he was talking to is a 9 year old who had a heart transplant after a wait of 8 months.

Wales has introduced a “soft opt out” system which means that consent is presumed, but relatives can stop the process if they wish and it looks like Scotland is going the same way. In the last Scottish Parliament, a bill introducing an opt-out system was lost by just 3 votes.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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16 Comments

  • So glad to hear Vince’s position on this.

    It is likely Scotland will follow the Welsh example – having failed by only 2 votes last year – and England needs to follow. It is estimated 600 people will die in the UK this year because they do not receive an organ in time.

    I had a transplant six years ago and will for ever be grateful to the family of the donor and the wonderful transplant unit in Edinburgh – they celebrate 25 years of activity this December. They gave me a new life and the chance to walk three daughters down the aisle and see three grandchildren come into the world.

    Well done, Vince.

  • Excellent news. This is a change that would save/improve countless lives and is a threat to absolutely no-one. It is long overdue and it’s great to see that Vince is identifying with it.

  • Robert (Somerset) 22nd Sep '17 - 12:03pm

    Well I don’t support this at all. I have always carried a donor card in the past and have been on the national donor register since its inception. My own brother has benefitted from a heart transplant and is going strong nine years after the event.

    I made my decision to be a donor after much consideration and have gone through various thought processes over the years in deciding which organs to donate and why. It’s my body and for me to decide not the state to make assumptions.

    Currently when a person dies a comprehensive system swings into action to ascertain if an organ is available for transplant. I doubt very much if such an effort would be made the other way to make absolutely sure a deceased person’s wishes are adhered to. It’s not so easy to prove a negative.

    I seem to remember, for instance, that as Lib Dems we made a lot of noise saying that individual trade unionists’ political donations should be covered by an opt in system as the current opt out system is undemocratic, intimidating and wrong.

    Were we to move to an opt out organ donor system I would be tempted to do just that on a point of principle.

  • @ Robert. May I ask you a question ?

    If you needed a heart or kidney or liver transplant and knew you had no more than a few weeks to live without it, would you refuse an organ obtained by the system you claim to object to ?

  • Robert (Somerset) 22nd Sep '17 - 8:20pm

    That’s a poor response. I suppose they use a similar argument in those parts of the world where the organs of prisoners or death penalty victims are harvested.

  • Robert from Somerset, is absolutely spot on with his objection to this change in organ donation opt-out.
    Sometimes high emotion get in the way of seeing something as it really is. This proposed policy change is basically saying that :

    ‘at the point of death, The State will take ownership of your body, unless you specifically (prior to death), declare and objection.’

    Ownership of your own body is a fundamental issue, and not one to violate frivolously, just because of the high emotional aspect of desperate transplant needs.

    As an extension to this ‘body ownership transfer’ to the State, would the State then (as the new legal owners), be legally obliged to pay the funeral costs, of the remaining ‘husk’ of cadaver that it doesn’t want?
    We should never let emotion be the driver to bad policy making.

  • “That’s a poor response”.

    Tell that to the six hundred plus families who will lose someone including sixty children this year because no organ was available. And of course you have not addressed the issue of the wishes of donor card holders being over ruled because a family objects.

    I’m afraid as the recipient of an organ transplant I find The comment of Sheila Gee quite bizarre.

  • Robert (Somerset) and Sheila Gee raise very valid points.

    The concern isn’t so much about this year or next year, ie. when the system is new, but a few years down the road, when presumption of opt-in has become the default modus operandi.

    Firstly, we need to take into consideration deaths. I suspect even in peak tourist season in Wales, the proportion of non-resident deaths (of people not holding organ donor cards) is insignificantly small, likewise the deaths of people who have actively opted out, ie. sub 1%. Hence it is sufficient to say that the system will treat all deaths as being potential organ donors, given the time criticality of organ harvest, unless there are obvious reasons to presume otherwise, such as the friends and family being present at the death. If a mistake is made, well we can say sorry and offer to pay for the funeral.

    Secondly, we need to consider the act of organ donation, earlier this month Jemima Layzell was all across the news, having saved a record number of lives through organ donation. With auto opt-in, this good news life-affirming story and similar is no longer noteworthy or newsworthy; giving space for more negative news… [Aside: Yes I know Jemima was only 13 and so wouldn’t have been auto-enrolled in the current Welsh 18+ scheme, but like voting age, originally 21 now 18, why not 16, 11, 5 or even 1 day old?]

    Thirdly, we should consider the organ recipient, in the Jemima Layzell case, and others, the recipients were highly grateful for the generosity of the donors and their families. Hence a further opportunity for life-affirming stories. However, in a society where there is a plentiful supply of donors, I can foresee things getting warped. With potential recipients firstly expecting that a donor will be found and then seeing an organ donation as a right: “sorry we have a match but the person had opted out”, “what do you mean, what right do they have to deny me an organ transplant…”.

    Finally, we have geography, where do organs go to? It isn’t clear whether the Welsh system will only provide organs to Welsh residents or to the UK, Europe, rest of the world?

    Hence I disagree with Vince, a presumption of having opted-in , is an attack on our society and on our ‘British’ identity.

  • Nonconformistradical 24th Sep '17 - 8:56pm

    @Roland
    “a presumption of having opted-in , is an attack on our society and on our ‘British’ identity.”
    Eh? You mean that’s more important than saving someone’s life?

  • I can tell Roland that when I was in a hospital bed waiting for a suitable organ – and watching people I had been talking to that day die and be wheeled out on a trolley – I couldn’t give a monkeys about my ‘British identity’ – and neither could my wife and children. Thank goodness we have the common sense of Vince in support of what is I know done in a sensible sensitive manner.

    The fact that a bit of this Yorkshireman is now Scottish entitles me, I think, to say anything else is just blether.

  • Nonconformistradical & David Raw – You’ve obviously missed my point, I’ll be more precise.

    Part of being ‘British’ and thus our modern national identity has been formed from adherence to the teachings of Christ. Thus there is an expectation that people will step up to the mark and “do their duty”. In doing our duty and caring for other members of our society we can come together as a society and feel good about ourselves. Now replace that with the compulsion arising from the presumption of opt-in, you’ll see they lead to two very different societies. Now which one do you want to belong to?

    Also following the logic that saving lives is more important than anything else, perhaps we should make donating blood mandatory, particularly as blood donations save more lives than organ transplants will ever save…

    No Vince is wrong, we shouldn’t be imposing this on people, instead we need to appeal to their sense of community and duty and celebrate the gift of life.

    I give blood and carry a donor card, in part because I was brought up to understand that this was part of what being British was about.

  • Roland, when you can tell me where Christ forbad the type of change to the law proposed by Vince I’ll take your comments seriously.

  • Nonconformistradical 24th Sep '17 - 11:06pm

    @Roland
    I don’t believe ‘being British’ – or adhering to the teachings of Christ – has anything to do with it. It’s possible to ‘do the right thing’ without being British or adhering to the teachings of Christ. And I think the implication that people of other nations might not ‘do the right thing’ is downright insulting to them.

    For what it’s worth – I’m too old to give blood (I have done so in the past) but I’m on the organ donors register – and I’m an atheist.

    If, when I conk out, there is anything left of me which might be useful to save someone else’s life (or make their life better) – they are very welcome to it – it won’t be any further use to me after all!!!

  • @David Raw & Nonconformistradical – I see you are missing the substantive point, not to say that your queries aren’t valid, just that you seem to be missing the point. So the question is what sort of society do you want to live in? As I get the distinct impression from the tone of your comments you are well down the road towards regarding organ transplants as a right, not a gift…

  • It is a truly desperate situation, and we do need to get more organs ‘gifted’, but they must be ‘gifted’, and not ‘stolen by the State’.

    My two main points are:
    1. Don’t let emotional desperation, overwhelm critical thinking when looking for solutions, resulting in poorly thought through and frankly, very illiberal solutions.

    2. This proposal goes far, far deeper than just a solution to acquiring organs for desperate people. It is a fundamental change of ownership of your body after your last breath, shifting from your next of kin, to The State. That change of ownership must surely have many legal consequences not yet fully considered?

    It only takes one ‘Gina Miller type’ to challenge The State in court, to the test the consequences and obligations over ‘body ownership’.
    A challenge for example:

    ‘You the State stole(?) (without his, or his next of kin’s written agreement), my husband’s body at the point of his death, and so, as the new ‘legal owners’, you The State, should support your legal obligation as the new owners of my husband’s body, and pay the £8000 funeral costs, because I as next of kin do not (Now) legally own my husband’s body.’

    Think it through? What we can say with some certainty, is that badly thought through legislation, however well-meaning for a desperate situation, WILL come back to bite you (expensively), in some future court room. Just don’t say you weren’t warned?

  • Bernard Aris 26th Sep '17 - 4:26pm

    a transplant law initiative like this launched by D66 already passed the Dutch “Second Chamber” (Commons) this Spring, and now is part of the D66 contribution to the legislative program of the German-like coalition of very different parties (us with a kind of Ulster Unionists…) we’re in the process of building right now in The Hague.

    Once again, D66 and the LibDems sing from the same hymn sheet;
    a roar of approval resounded through the D66 corridors of (upcoming) power in the Dutch parliament building just 5 minutes ago.

    The Dutch law is presented by our veteran News and Health broadcaster and MP Pia Dijkstra (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pia_Dijkstra ).

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