Presumed Consent: What happens to your body after you die?

The Joint Public Issues Team (JPIT) of the Methodist Church inBritain, the Baptist Union of Great Britain and the United ReformedChurch has produced a free resource on the ethics of organ donationahead of a change in the law in Wales. The resource is designed tohelp people think through questions around "presumed consent",which will become legal in Wales from December 2015.

The free guide is entitled "Sharing the gift of life?" and isavailable to download from the JPIT website. It includes arguments, concerns and issues aroundorgan donation, the rights and concerns of patients, personalexperiences as well as a discussion on whether there is adistinctly Christian way of seeing the body. People are invited touse it for personal reflection or to support a groupdiscussion.

James North, policy officer for the Methodist Church in Britain,said: "Presumed consent raises many questions, both for Christiansand wider society. What do we understand by donating our organs orthose of people we love? Will presumed consent increase or decreaseorgans available for donation? Who has the greater moral say - thefamily of the organ donor or the person needing the organs? Theresource has been prepared to help people think through some ofthese questions before presumed consent comes into effect in Walesin 2015 or is discussed more widely through the rest of theUK."

In July 2013, the Welsh Assembly voted in favour of "presumedconsent" for organ transplantation. Under this legislation, unlesspeople explicitly opt out, they are regarded as having givenconsent to their organs being available for transplantation. Thisis a change from an opt-in to an opt-out system of organ donation.Northern Ireland has already held a consultation on presumedconsent and Scotland is currently consulting on it. It is possiblethat similar proposals will be debated in England and that Bills tointroduce presumed consent will be introduced in the rest of the UK, following Wales' lead.

According to NHS Organ Donation statistics, from 1 April 2012 to 31 March2013, 1,160 lives were saved in the UK through a heart, lung, liveror combined heart/lungs, liver/kidney or liver/pancreas transplant.The statistics also showed that 3,052 patients' lives were improvedby a kidney or pancreas transplant, and 3,697 people had theirsight restored through a cornea transplant. Around 1,000 people ayear (almost three a day) will die waiting as there are not enoughorgans available.

James North added: "The Methodist, Baptist and United ReformedChurches are strongly in favour of organ donation but don't have aposition on presumed consent. The debate in Wales has shown thatmany in our Churches find presumed consent an uneasy principle.Churches have an important role in supporting donors, recipients oforgans, and their families, both pastorally and publically."Sharing the gift of life" is intended to help Christiansparticipate in the national discussion around presumed consent, sothat the wonder of organ donation can be fulfilled in oursociety."