EDITORIAL WESTERN MAIL VIEWS OF THE NEWSPAPER AND PEOPLE LIKE US COUNCIL
THE question of whether we should opt out of donating our organs should we die remains a divisive one, as the political developments we report today demonstrate. The Assembly’s health committee rejected the idea, preferring to stick with the current system where people have to opt in and sign up for a donor card.
The committee decided switching the rules around would be a “distraction” from efforts to encourage more people to sign up.
Its report also suggested that public opinion was not ready to make the switch – something that seems unlikely.
Yet not every AM on the committee was convinced by this line of argument, and it seems Health Minister Edwina Hart is open to the idea of a change in policy. She said yesterday she would not rule out asking for the powers to be transferred from London to Cardiff Bay so Wales could make its own decisions on the issue.
Her response to the health committee sensibly pointed out the report did not reflect the range of different views on the question. In short, the health committee ducked the issue; it would be better to be bold, and take a position that says Wales should lead the way.
The devolution settlement allows Ministers to ask Westminster for extra powers; it should do so in this case, and a decision on whether Wales should be the first part of the UK to have a system of presumed consent in organ donations should be made by the Assembly. That decision should come in a free vote of all 60 AMs, and not be decided by a Minister or a health committee that is itself split on the issue.
We think presumed consent is a simple and sensible move forward. It’s clear that the present system does not work well enough; not enough people carry donor cards, and the waiting lists for transplants goes up and up.
Changing the policy costs nothing, save for a necessary public information campaign, and has the potential to make a huge difference to thousands of families.
Far too many people are suffering the distress of seeing loved ones fighting for life while a desperate search for donors goes on – surely we can rewrite the rules and reduce their pain? There are now 501 people waiting for a transplant, the highest ever number. With the figures heading in the wrong direction, the time is right for radical action.
Some will object that the state has no place in automatically claiming rights over a person’s body. But this would be presumed consent, not compulsory donation. Those who feel strongly can easily opt out, and some doubtless will.
But that isn’t an argument for doing nothing. The present system doesn’t work well enough, and causes unnecessary suffering. The Assembly Government should seek the power to do something about it – and show it’s brave enough to lead the way.