Last night I took part in what will hopefully be the scariest ever media…thing I will ever do.
I was asked to appear as a “Witness” on BBC radio 4’s Moral Maze. Naively I said of course I would and brightly informed the researcher I’d been on You and Yours at which point she said “erm, Moral Maze isn’t quite as...friendly as that.”
It turns out that as a witness you go into the room to be cross examined by members of the panel. And what made me determined to go no matter how terrified I was was one of the panel was the woman who wrote this.
One of the worse cases of irresponsible journalism I have ever seen. I cannot however just write that, as that would merely be bitter and accusational without laying out my qualms with her piece. So here they are.
“The news that Gordon Brown has thrown his weight behind a move to register everyone automatically as an organ donor unless they opt out has all the hallmarks of a major spin operation….If this is supposed to assist Mr Brown’s new year campaign to restore his waning political fortunes, it’s a pretty rum way of going about it.”
Straight away this makes no sense. I will freely admit now I do not have a political brain, but I don’t quite understand how raising an issue as controversial as opt-out can be seen as a political move to gain favour with the public. Surely he’d pick something more people were passionately for, rather than one with such heated debate if it was all about gaining votes?
“There is no more fundamental human right than control over our own bodies and what is done to them, both in life and death.”
Totally agree. Which is why whatever system we have there must always be choice. And there is. Opt in, or opt out, whichever system, the person chooses their final stance on the matter.
“The inescapable implication of a donor opt-out is that we no longer possess such control. The presumption instead is that the state controls our bodies and can do what it likes with them after it declares us to be dead.”
This is the thing that bugs me the most – this discussion flying around that our autonomy will be breached if we switch systems. Firstly autonomy means the right to make your own choices so that’s fairly self explanatory as to why the whole argument is invalid, however lets assume that it’s not and take a closer look.
Again it’s an illogical argument, unless you are saying that in the current system the 70% people who wish to donate their organs are having their autonomy breached. I suspect if I’d had a chance to ask Ms Phillips that she would have said “no because they can choose to donate” and that’s exactly my point, in an opt-out system you can choose to opt-out. And it makes no sense giving more moral weight to the right not to donate than it does to the right to donate. So either way according to her, people are being oppressed, well in that case the logical move would be to oppress as few people as possible, thus switching to presumed consent so only 30% have to opt out.
“There is, however, a yet more fundamental objection to the opt-out proposal. This is the serious doubt whether people whose organs are harvested are indeed dead.”
This part of the argument is what incensed me the most. People getting their knickers in a twist about their rights is one thing. Claiming that people who are brain-stem dead (BSD) are not actually dead is just plain wrong. And it’s scaremongering. And worse than that she’s now not arguing against opt-out, she’s arguing against organ donation as a whole.
I figured that I didn’t know enough about BSD to counter her on this so I researched it. Which is fairly easy to do and I urge anyone who is now nervous to do the same. The brainstem controls our body’s unconscious functions – all the things like blood pressure, gag reflex, pupil dilation, temperature control, water/insulin balances…these things the body does automatically to keep us up and running. And the most important one (as I see it although perhaps that’s because it’s closest to home) is that it controls our ability to breathe.
To test for BSD there are a number of comprehensive tests carried out at two separate times by two separate doctors. Both must have more than five years medical experience, one must be a consultant. Neither can have anything to do with a transplant team. One of the tests they do is they unhook the ventilator for 10 minutes and monitor the blood gases awaiting a reflex breath when the Carbon dioxide level gets to the stage where it would trigger a breath in any living person.
“As a result, people are declared dead while their heart is still beating unassisted and blood is still circulating round the body.”
If she’d read any of the medical documents floating around (which I assume she must have and just chose to ignore this) the heart will stop even if the person remains on life support within hours to days of BSD occurring.
“Some give ‘brain stem dead’ patients a general anaesthetic before removing their organs. But whoever heard of anaesthetising a corpse?”
First of all I couldn’t find any reference of a GA being administered. This doesn’t mean however that it isn’t as I might have been reading all the wrong articles. However she goes on to explain that the reason a GA is administered is due to the abnormal rise in blood pressure. What is supposed to control blood pressure? The brainstem.
“Doctors are discovering that, among patients in a persistent vegetative state whose brains are presumed to have stopped functioning, there is in fact a large amount of brain activity.”
Completely different scenario and I feel she is deliberately playing on people’s misconceptions and fears here, as PVS is not BSD therefore has nothing to do with the tests done before organ donation.
‘Since the patient is not truly dead until his or her organs are removed, it is the process of organ donation itself that causes the donor’s death.’
This just made me want to cry. Imagine all those wonderful donor families out there who have up until now been taking some comfort from the fact they saved lives with their decision and are suddenly panicking that their decision was the thing that killed their loved one. To anyone reading this in that position, as I said on the radio, if you had said no, all that would have happened is they would have turned off the machines and your loved one’s heart would have stopped. They would have died and no other lives would have been saved through organ donation. They were already gone.
“A system the public believes embodies the highest form of altruism rests instead on deception and unlawful killing.”
Again I merely view this as scaremongering – using highly emotive language which she has not been able to back up in her article. Interestingly when asked if she would donate her organs she totally avoided the question. I also wish I could have asked her if she would accept an organ if she were to need one, or if a loved one of hers needed a new heart how she’d feel...mind you I’m sure she would have an answer for that too. Shame she was too cowardly to voice it which would have made me a tiny bit more respectful of her viewpoint if she'd said at least that she'd refuse an organ should it come to that.
OK rant over. But boy was it tough live on air. I hope I came across ok. Oh and before I get told off for not telling people, you can listen to it here (click on listen again).
The one thing the whole debate did make me think twice about is the presumed consent idea removing the gift element. I need to do some more pondering on that one before I come to a conclusion. I also believe that with all the huge misconceptions and myths floating around, months and months of education and reassurance would be needed before any kind of switch if one was to happen. And in the meantime the government has pledged £11 million to help fulfil the ODTF’s 14 point plan (readable here) so let’s just wait and see if they honour that...
The C Word
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