Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Ethical campaigners saddened by final approval of Wales opt-out organ bill

Ethical campaigners have expressed their sadness following final approval of a bill in Wales to create an opt-out system for organ transplantation.

Members of SPUC's Wales region are saddened that the Secretary of State for Wales has decided not to use his powers to block the Human Transplantation (Wales) Bill from being sent to Her Majesty the Queen for Royal Assent (see note below). 

Michael Wendell Thomas, vice-chairman of SPUC's Wales region, told the media earlier today:
"A collective weight of opinion has demonstrated that implementation of the Bill will be fraught with risk. This opinion has been presented by medical and ethical professionals, faith communities (Christian, Muslim and Jewish), patient care organisations, plus the vast number of people who made individual submissions to the Welsh Government during three years of consultations.

"The case for 'deemed consent' as a valid form of consent was not investigated by the Welsh Assembly's Health or Legislative Committees. The only basis for this kind of law is that the Welsh Government has deemed it so. This is probably the most important law that the Welsh Assembly has ever passed, seeing that it deals with the rights and lives and health of every Welsh resident. It therefore reflects very severely on the reputation of Wales, of devolution, and of all Welsh Assembly members, as well as the current Wales Government. To the ordinary non-lawyer, 'deemed consent' is a meaningless idea; to many eminent or expert people, such as the Archbishop of Wales, it is a "fiction". True consent is explicit and voluntary, and is the only sound basis for laws concerning personal autonomy and permission to remove someone’s organs.

The Bill as described by successive Assembly Health Ministers and the First Minister was for a 'soft' opt-out option, with a family veto on 'deemed consent' cases, as supported by the First Minister (see note 2 below). However, the version of the bill passed by the Assembly on 2 July is for a 'hard' opt-out system. Public and expert submissions had therefore been made on a false premise.

Evidence has shown the current voluntary organ donation system to be successful. However, the number of organs available for transfer has fallen recently. Some feared that the new legislation could lead to more patients on the waiting-list dying before organs became available. It is highly unlikely that, even if the bill does produce more organs, it will save the lives of those Welsh people on the waiting-list.

There is also a myriad of cross-border and human rights issues which will arise once the legislation is implemented.

Members of SPUC's Wales region will remain vigilant regarding this ill-considered piece of legislation. We will campaign wherever possible to mitigate the effects that it may have on the weak and vulnerable in our midst. We shall also seek to ensure that the professional standards of clinicians involved in organ removal are not eroded by pressures from unscrupulous people to produce ever-more organs for transplant, irrespective of the dangers to those dying. We remain committed to real, voluntary and informed organ donation by the individual dying patient."

1. Powers granted under section 114 of the Government of Wales Act 2006, under which, after receiving legal advice, the Secretary of State can make an order prohibiting the Clerk from submitting the bill for Royal Assent.

2. "We have decided on soft presumed consent, where relatives can veto organ donation", Observer, 9 May 2010.

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