Monday, August 03, 2009

How Viable is Presumed Consent in Organ Donation?

There are very few countries in the world that follow the presumed consent policy with regard to organ donation, and almost all of them are in Europe including Denmark, Sweden, Austria, France, Italy, Finland, Norway and Belgium. This, in simple terms, means that the organs of people who die are automatically allowed to be used to help those waiting for organ donations, unless the person’s family objects to the same. In other parts of the world though, organ donation is an opt-in process, one that the person has to consent to when still alive.

Now, with the number of people waiting for organ donation rising by at least 8 percent every year, other nations like the United Kingdom and the USA are considering implementing the presumed consent policy so that lives may be saved when others are lost. But opponents of this move claim that move, rather than solving the problem of the dearth of organs available, will only complicate the already cloudy ethical and moral issues of organ donation.

Issues such as organ donation are tricky because they are successful only when public consent and support is forthcoming. So while governments may consider making presumed consent the law, some people think that it makes more sense to continue to increase awareness and get people to sign up on their own to be listed as donors. This way, there is no objection from families and organs from cadavers can be harvested as soon as possible and be transplanted into those waiting for them. Also, the cultural values of people and their sensitivity towards their last rites are preserved and not offended if they themselves consent to become donors while they are alive.

But, the reason why most people don’t enroll themselves in organ donation programs is not because they don’t want to; it’s more because they are so preoccupied with their lives that they do not have time to list themselves as donors. And this effectively makes them useless when dead, even though they would have preferred to help someone else live. This makes opt-out programs like presumed consent seem more practical, because the hundreds of people who die in road accidents and due to other causes can now save lives.

Presumed content works well in countries like Spain (which has the highest rate of organ donations) because they have a good system in place – people involved in transplanting organs are trained to deal with families and explain to them how the process works. They are able to gain consent without offending sensibilities, and this is why presumed content works.

While it’s true that presumed organ donation does increase the probability of saving lives, the policy has to be implemented and executed with care so as not to offend public sensibilities.


This guest article was written by Adrienne Carlson, who regularly writes on the topic of phlebotomy training. Adrienne welcomes your comments and questions at her email address:

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