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A Private Members’ Bill currently moving through Parliament seeks to change the law relating to organ donation. The first successful organ transfer occurred in 1954 between two identical twin brothers.
One of them had chronic nephritis and his brother donated one of his kidneys to his twin which gave him another five years of life. Since then other organs – pancreas, liver, heart and skin, have been successfully transferred.
The present law allows people in England to opt-in to donating their organs on their death for doctors to transfer them to sick patients who need those organs. Britain has one of the lowest percentages of voluntary organ donors in the developed world. 25,000 people have opted into donation when they die but there are still 6.500 people waiting for a transplant and the NHS says at least 500 people die every year because there are insufficient suitable donors. Geoffrey Robinson MP’s aim is to have every deceased person’s organs available unless they deliberately opt-out or their families and the next of kin oppose the organ transfer.
The Bill has Government support and is highly likely to become law this year. Scotland is currently considering similar legislation to establish an opt-out system. Wales already has an opt-out system, introduced two years ago. But so far it has not led to an increase in the number of deceased donors and there has been a modest reduction in the number of transplants. It has been suggested that in time attitudes, especially those of close relatives, will change and fewer people will choose to opt- out.
Opponents of the change are concerned that it could lead to organ harvesting. This is an extreme act, known to have occurred in China, where Falun Gong prisoners were executed to order so that their organs could be transplanted into sick people. The fear is that medics might be tempted to harvest organs from patients who have lost higher brain functions but are still alive. Some medics are concerned that the tests for death in those cases are not fool-proof. The organ transplants that are the subject of Mr Robinson’s Bill should only occur when the donor is unquestionably dead.
Even so some Christians see organ donation as mutilating the donor’s body and believe that the whole body needs to be preserved until the promised resurrection when Christ returns. Others follow St Paul in believing that,” flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (1Cor 15:50).
Obviously the Bible does not address this issue but Christian supporters of organ donation see it as a selfless way of loving their neighbour (Matt 5.43). They point to Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross to save sinners and heed his words about caring for the sick, hungry, thirsty , homeless and imprisoned, saying “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine you did for me “ (Matt 25:40). They might conclude in the words of St John, “Dear friends, since God so loves us, we also ought to love one another (1John 4:11).