British Prime Minister Supports Taking Patients’ Organs Without Consent

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jan 13, 2008   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

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by Steven Ertelt Editor
January 13,

London, England ( — In what pro-life advocates see as a further scaling back of the respect government should have for patients and their right to life, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has endorsed allowing hospitals to take organs from dead patients without their consent.

Bioethicists say the move further commodifies human life in the same way England has done so with attempts to allow "savior siblings" or cloning of chimeras to produce clones for cures.

Brown wrote an editorial in the Sunday Telegraph newspaper saying that a facility that could process taking organs from dead patients could potentially save thousands of lives. He hopes to start such a program this year.

Under his proposal, doctors would simply presume that a dead patient would have wanted their organs used to help others instead of asking a patient to sign a consent form beforehand.

Prime Minister Brown said about 8,000 British residents annually are waiting for an organ donation and that about 1,000 die without receiving one.

Brown indicated he would start the program next week and said the government would pressure physicians and nurses to begin identifying patients that could be potential organ donors.

Hospitals could wind up being rated based on how successful they are in scavenging the bodies of dead patients for organs for others.

"A system of this kind seems to have the potential to close the aching gap between the potential benefits of transplant surgery in the UK and the limits imposed by our current system of consent," Brown wrote in the newspaper editorial.

Patients’ rights groups said they are strongly opposed to the idea.

"They call it presumed consent, but it is no consent at all," said Joyce Robin, from the watchdog Patient Concern. "They are relying on inertia and ignorance to get the results that they want."

Wesley J. Smith, a leading bioethics watchdog in the United States, strongly opposes the idea as well.

"This could get ugly," he said, pointing to concerns from patients groups and disability rights advocates.

Smith says "such a plan could be disastrous and destroy the confidence people have in medicine–particularly in the UK in which the NHS is imploding and health care rationing is already encroaching on Hippocratic medical values."

He also worries it would increase pressure on medical professionals to engage in assisted suicide or involuntary euthanasia.

"If every patient were deemed by law a probable organ donor, the temptation–particularly given the increased influence of utilitarian bioethics–would be to view the sickest patients as so many organ systems whose primary worth would be to help other people," he said.

"The fear among the people would be that the critically ill — particularly otherwise ‘healthy’ people with significant cognitive impairments — would be treated (or not treated) in a way to benefit potential organ recipients rather than the patient," he concluded.