Church leaders in Wales unite against change in organ donation law

January 25, 2012

[Church in Wales] The leaders of three church denominations in Wales are joining forces to oppose the Welsh government’s proposals to change the law on organ donation.

Leaders of the Church in Wales, the Roman Catholic Church and the Wales Eastern Orthodox Mission on Jan. 23 sent a joint response to the government on its plans to introduce presumed consent for organ donation in Wales.

The government published its White Paper, Proposals for Legislation on Organ and Tissue Donation, in November and public consultation continues until the end of January. The church response is signed by all the bishops of the Church in Wales and Roman Catholic Bishops in Wales, including Anglican Archbishop of Wales Barry Morgan and Roman Catholic Archbishop of Cardiff George Stack. It is also signed by Father Deiniol, Archimandrite of the Wales Eastern Orthodox Mission.

While fully supporting the principle of organ donation, the church leaders outline their objections to presumed consent and urge the government to reconsider. They call for an independent body to conduct a genuinely open consultation considering a range of possibilities, without prior commitments to a particular legislative proposal. This should look at systems that include aspects of opt-in, opt-out and mandated choice.

They warn, “If the proposals in the White Paper are not subject to independent scrutiny then there is a real danger that a change in the law would alienate a significant proportion of the public and undermine the positive image of organ donation and the reputation of Wales. For while a high rate of voluntary donation speaks of a culture of generosity, a system of presumed consent would “turn donation into action by default”.

The key messages from the joint submission include:

  • Organ donation is a profoundly Christian and positive act.
  • The positive ethos of donation as a free gift is endangered by an ill-judged if well intentioned proposal to move from voluntary donation to presumed consent.
  • Extreme concern that while responses are being invited on the proposals in the White Paper, the central proposal, which is the shift from donation to presumed consent, is presented as a fait accompli.
  • The belief that changing from opt-in to opt-out would improve the rate of transplantation is not justified by the available evidence.  It should not be taken for granted that changing the law to a system of opt-out/presumed consent would increase the availability of organs for transplantation.
  • The most effective way to increase rates of both organ donation and family agreement to donation after death is to encourage people to sign the Organ Donation Register and to talk about the issue with relatives and those close to them.
  • The White Paper calls for a “soft opt-out” system in which the relatives will always be consulted, but the ideas of “consultation” or being “involved in the process” are ambiguous. The law needs to state unambiguously whether relatives will be able to refuse permission for the removal of organs.

On Jan. 21 about 100 people attended a Church in Wales organized public meeting to discuss the morality of presumed consent. They heard view points from Morgan; Roy Thomas, executive chair of Kidney Wales Foundation; and Dr. Chris Jones, medical director of NHS Wales. It was held at St. John the Baptist church in Cardiff city center.

– Anna Morrell is the Archbishop of Wales’ media officer.

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