When ‘donation’ of organs is theft
I RESPECT Robert Aitken’s altruism in donating his body post mortem to Glasgow University (Letters, October 2) while wondering why he is not donating parts thereof instead for transplant, which he recommends so enthusiastically to us.
I think him misguided, however, in his apparent wish to see us all compulsorily subject to organ harvest post mortem unless, contrary to present requirement, we “opt out” of that procedure.
While such a proposal is understandably made with the best of intentions, it is based upon a misguided belief that society at large is bound by some moral, spiritual or religious obligation to prolong life by whatever means, including by what, in other instances, would be deemed downright theft. No such obligation exists. Without prior expressed or rightly assumed consent, organ donation by the individual becomes organ confiscation by the state.
In his work On Liberty, John Stuart Mill puts the matter of bodily proprietorship clearly: “Over himself [the individual], over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.” According to this liberal view, an individual’s body post mortem forms part of his residual estate. Thus, like other elements of that estate – wealth, realty, chattels etc – it is not up for confiscation by anyone else, least of all by the state, by presumption merely and for whatever worthy and altruistic cause, however advantageous or compassionate that might be to others.
Would, I wonder, Mr Aitken support confiscation, in whole or in part, of one’s residual money and property (his in particular) by the state for the laudable purpose of disposal for relief amongst the poor and needy? If not, the distinction of what he proposes by way of organ confiscation is not easy to discern.
I should not wish to find myself the recipient of a body part effectively confiscated by the state in default of a definite desire for it to be made available to me having been expressed or rightfully inferred.
Given opt-out, a scenario might not be too long coming wherein a choice might need to be made between prolonging a life or permitting death in order to harvest organs for others perhaps deemed more deserving. These would be very deep and murky moral waters indeed.
The least worst of two unsatisfactory and unsavoury choices to be made is to let the status quo of opt-in stand. This will not be advice welcome to the protagonists for change like Mr Aitken, of course, and is understandably repudiated by those awaiting organ transplants. The former group need not despair, however. They must merely double their efforts to have folk opt-in. The latter group might console themselves to some small extent (I know and despair that there will be little comfort in this) if they are able to see the honour in only accepting what is freely offered.