organ donation mandatory
Ethics & Morality

Mandatory organ donation for Christians: a presumed opt-out for Muslims?

While the media obsess about the P45 prankster, the set falling to pieces or the plague of frogs in Theresa May’s throat, you could be forgiven for missing that the Conservatives slipped in the most un-conservative nationalisation since the invention of the state appropriation of private property.

They intend to legislate for organ donation to be based on the principle of presumed consent: that is, unless you carry a donor opt-out card, your eyes, lungs, hearts, liver, pancreas, kidneys, (face? penis?) – any body part deemed useful by the medical profession – can, on death, be appropriated by state organ bandits and harvested for the common good.

Presently, of course, organ donation is voluntary: it is a gift (hence ‘donation’). You either opt-in by joining the donor register, or the family of the deceased consents to the donation. Your body is yours while you live, and your family’s when you die, unless you have determined (within certain limits) what should happen to it on expiration. This longstanding contract represents a careful balance between the power of the state and the rights of the (dead) citizen: the state only intervenes in exceptional circumstances (eg public health risk or the need for a coroner’s investigation). Theresa May intends to turn this principle on its head: the default position shall henceforth be that the deceased was in favour of organ donation and, as a matter of law, his or her consent for harvesting is presumed. Organs are no longer to be freely donated but automatically appropriated by state mandate.

This is organ taxation.

Or cadaver conscription.

The new law will apply to everyone over the age of 18, with likely exemptions for non-UK university students and individuals lacking the mental capacity to make a decision on the matter.

Not that anybody will actually need to have made a decision on the matter: the state will do that for you. Only if you’re carrying your opt-out card at the point of being run over by a bus can you be sure that your family won’t see your face walking down the road again next week.

Or are faces to be exempt?

What about penises?

And what about religious minorities?

There is no dogmatic reason why Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists or Sikhs should not donate their organs. There is, in fact, no dogmatic reason why Muslims may not do so, and some of them doubtless choose to carry donor cards. But very many Muslims believe that the body must be buried whole. What then happens if the dead Muslim has not opted out of mandatory organ donation, but the family insist that s/he must be buried whole?

There is no uniformity of belief in Islam on organ donation. The general rule that ‘necessities permit the prohibited’ (al-darurat tubih al-mahzurat) is adduced by some to support the practice: organ donation can save or enhance the life of another, and so the benefits outweigh the personal cost. And the Qur’an says: ‘Whosoever saves the life of one person it would be as if he saved the life of all mankind’ (5:32).

But an alternative view advanced by some Islamic scholars is that organ donation is absolutely prohibited. “They consider that organ donation compromises the special honour accorded to man and this cannot be allowed whatever the cost. Scholars, such as the Islamic Fiqh Academy of India, allow live donations only” (Mufti Mohammed Zubair Butt, Muslim Council of Britain).

Islamic beliefs vary according to cultural origin: Indo/Pak Muslims generally oppose organ donation; Arab Muslims generally view it favourably. According to Shaykh Muhammad ibn Adam al-Kawthari: “A very famous Hadith prevents the usage of human parts. Sayyida Asma bint Abi Bakr (Allah be pleased with her) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: Allah’s curse is on a woman who wears false hair (of humans) or arranges it for others’ (Sahih Muslim, no. 2122).”

The theo-cultural issues are complex. Ultimately, it comes down to subjective judgments of relative benefit and harm. But in that individual judgment is personal freedom, or a corporate family expression of informed consent. Why, at the moment of profound grief, should a family have to contend with the state over who owns the body of their loved one? What happens if they do not agree? What happens if the family has religious objections, but the deceased expressed none? Why should a family be torn asunder over who gets grandpa’s eyes?

The objections of Christian families will doubtless be ignored. But all it will take is for one justifiably aggrieved Muslim family to have their traumatic story emblazoned across the tabloids for the issues of religious liberty to be revisited (or, on this matter, visited for the first time). How long will it take for another group to be granted a blanket exemption from the Conservatives’ collectivist cadaver conscription?