Lucy Mangan

"When I'm gone, use my parts"

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I must say, I didn’t think anyone would be brave enough to try it just yet. But clearly the Welsh are made of sterner stuff than most. The Cambrian government has announced plans to change from an opt-in system for organ donation (like we all have now – you must explicitly state that you want to give) to an opt-out one.

Come 2015, its citizens – like those in Spain, Belgium and France – will be presumed to be donors unless they state otherwise. When Spain introduced its system of ‘soft’ presumed consent, the number of donators doubled.

This is a brave move by the Welsh Executive. The question of organ donation is one that divides people so sharply that governments usually stay as far away from it as possible. But maybe when centuries of Druidic sacrifice are a proud part of your nation’s history, maybe you are less fazed.

I hope the law is passed and I hope that the rest of the British Isles follows suit. I’m one of those people who thinks that after I’m gone, you can and should strip me and sell me for parts. Well, not sell, actually, that would be the very antithesis of my grand and generous gesture, but you get my drift. Up to nine people can be helped by a single donor, so please, press every bit of me you can into further service. Use everything, as they used to say of pigs, bar t’squeak. Although if technology has advanced sufficiently by the time I meet my Maker to render it useful, then take t’squeak too.

Why? Because I won’t be needing it. The me that matters will be gone. The body – which was frankly never much to write home about anyway – will be all that’s left, and will become arguably more use in death than it ever was in life. Sure, it got me from A to B, saw me safely through some good times and bad, but it has never healed anyone, let alone the multiple individuals who could be helped if the surgeons help themselves to my liver, corneas and everything in between.

Many people feel differently, including many of my own friends. They wouldn’t want their bodies violated – as they see it – in this way. Of course I understand that response. There is something primal that resists the notion of not going to the grave whole and, if I’m honest, one that still beats faintly under my own “official” stance. But just because something is natural does not mean it’s right. What marks us out from the beasts is our ability to reason and sift through sentiment to find whatever truth lurks underneath.

Up to nine people can be helped by a single donor, so please, press every bit of me you can into further service

And this, I think, is what the proposed change to the law would do. What may seem at first glance like a gross intrusion by the state (what is left to us, after all, if our bodies are not left to us?) could actually provide a valuable opportunity for reflection – if we have to opt-out, we will examine our motives for doing so closely.

To some, organ donation is a blessing – the ability to wrench life from the jaws of death. Other people still recoil, but why? Often, I suspect, through a combination of distaste or shadowy superstition. But if you unpack these arguments, what lies at the heart of them? Squeamishness, ignorance and the usual mild degree of selfishness that pervades most people’s thoughts.

If you still object after that, of course, you can choose to override the presumption of consent. And if you feel embarrassed to do so, maybe you don’t feel that strongly after all. Maybe embarrassment is a recognition that the impulse is selfish.

A similar argument goes for those with religious objections. If your fear of social embarrassment or stigma is stronger than your faith, maybe it isn’t faith that is your strongest motivation?

“It’s a slippery slope” is another frequent objection to changes in (any) law and the laziest of them all. Nothing follows from anything inevitably. Chains of events can always be constructed retrospectively (IVF leads to designer babies and ‘saviour siblings’ and so on). A always leads to B because A *has* led to B. Left out of every such narrative are all the choices that existed along the way and that people collectively or individually decided not to take. The introduction of an opt-out system might lead to us all being grown in plantations for our parts – but it needn’t. To use such scare tactics is both cowardly and inadequate. For once, a government is being brave and instead of kowtowing to public opinion is trying to lead it. I hope Westminster catch on in the UK, where 500 people every year die waiting for transplants.

Contact Lucy Mangan at or on twitter @lucymangan

Main picture credit: Rex Features

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