Presumed consent is a bad public relations message

donorI’ve carried a donor card for as long as I can remember and registered to gift any of my organs or other body parts after my death. That’s why I object to the ‘presumed consent’ strategy adopted by the Welsh assembly.

My organs are mine to donate or gift to others, with the support of my family or next of kin. It is the most generous thing that someone can do for another person – to help them live after our death. This is a humanitarian, citizenship message, and should not be countered by one of expediency or efficiency.

The argument made if you object to a system that assumes people wish to be donors unless they indicate otherwise, is that you can opt-out. But I wish to be a donor. I do not wish for my consent to be presumed. I do not wish for the state to have the right to harvest human bodies on a default basis.

Telling me that I can opt out, is pointless. I do not object to organ donation, but believe that the altruism involved in an ‘opt in’ system should not be dismissed lightly.

No government should have a right to its citizens’ bodies without their explicit consent. No matter how desperately someone may need a transplant, they should not presume they can demand the use of another person’s organs. Regardless of the medical profession’s belief that ‘presumed consent’ will increase the number of available organs, or ease the transplant process – an ‘opt-out’ approach is an unacceptable message.

Discussion around safe-guards and public information regarding any ‘presumed consent’ misses the point. It should be an individual’s choice to GIVE their body to help others. The donor card message has always been:

“I would like to help someone to live after my death”.

Modern society needs to encourage people to help others more – not further erode our community spirit.

I see it as a failure of public relations to opt for an ‘opt-out’ system. Data from the NHS show that up to 96% of people support organ donation – but only 30% have joined the register. So if people support the concept, but are not registering as organ donors, we need to understand the various reasons why. It is not good enough to indicate that people forget or cannot be bothered – this is too important an issue to therefore presume consent. Indeed, the variation in donation rates across different systems and different cultures indicate that ‘opt-out’ legislation is not the solution.

This is a topic that requires public and private discussion. Death shouldn’t be a taboo that is remedied by an ‘opt-out’ system. There is an interesting video on Ted: Prepare for a good end of life by Judy MacDonald Johnston. This advocates having a plan – and a plan should be an opportunity to think about what you’d like, and how those around you can honour your wishes and your memory.

You can read facts about organ donation here – and it is easy to join the NHS Organ Donor Register – this link has more information and enables you to join, amend or remove your details.

And here is an infographic from NHSBT:

Organ Donation Facts and Figures

Join the NHS Organ Donation Register

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Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.