BY Peter Diamond | March 1 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


Organ donation bill labelled ‘morally unacceptable’ by the Church takes a step towards becoming law

MSPs have approved a bill to assume organ donation consent from patients rather than seek explicit approval, a move the Church says is 'morally unacceptable'

The Catholic Church urged politicians to reject the Human Tissue (Authorisation) (Scotland) Bill. However, at a meeting of the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday February 26, MSPs agreed the general principles of the bill, meaning if the final legislation is passed it will shift Scotland to a soft ‘opt-out’ system for organ donation.

Currently people must opt in to the system in order to donate their organs for transplants after they die, but the decision to approve the bill was backed by 107 MSPs, with one Liberal Democrat MSP Mike Rumbles voting against and SNP MSPs Christine Grahame and Colin Beattie abstaining.

Under the new proposals, published at the Scottish Parliament, it will be assumed people are in favour of donation unless they have stated otherwise.

Following the debate at Holyrood on Tuesday evening, Anthony Horan, director of the Catholic Parliamentary Office, said he was ‘disappointed with the result.’

“The aim of the bill is noble: to increase the number of organ donations in Scotland. This is commendable and civic authorities should be doing everything in their power to make this happen,” he said. “Adopting a system of presumed consent, however, is not the way forward. There is a danger that an individual’s organs will be taken without them ever having given explicit consent.

“The Nuffield Council on Bioethics, in giving evidence to the Holyrood Health and Sport Committee, raised concerns about the proposed new system, highlighting the lack of evidence that it would increase donations and put forward an alternative option of investing more in Special Organ Donation Nurses.

“It is reported that where specialist nurses are available to speak to the family of the deceased they either donate or authorise donation in 68 per cent of cases. Where they are absent the figure is just 27 per cent.”

Mr Horan said that Spain leads the way in organ donation ‘thanks to investment in infrastructure, including the employment of specialist organ donation nurses in hospitals and through awareness raising campaigns.

“Mike Rumbles MSP was the only parliamentarian to vote against the general principles of the bill on Tuesday. His argument is that section 7 of the bill requires an unreasonably high standard of proof of relatives who have knowledge that their deceased relative did not want to donate their organs on death,” he said. “Currently, a relative need only express knowledge that a deceased relative did not want to donate their organs. This is an important safety net, especially in an opt-out system of organ donation.

“However, the new bill requires proof that would ‘convince a reasonable person.’ This is a significant step up in proof and one can only wonder what kind of evidence the drafters of the bill envisage in these circumstances. It is a dangerous provision.”

The Bishops’ Conference of Scotland had previously confirmed it opposed the bill, saying it was ‘morally unacceptable’ in a briefing issued to MSPs.

“Organ donation is a great gift but this proposed new system removes the element of gift and there is a real danger that people will have their organs removed on death when they had no intention of ever donating,” added Mr Horan.

The bill will now be returned to the Health and Sport Committee for further consideration.

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