How ought a Conservative to feel about the Government’s newfound determination to introduce an ‘opt-out’ system of presumed consent for organ donation?
On the one hand, there’s little doubt that this will save lives – although Welsh experience suggests it may not be transformative.
On the other, we are supposed to be the party that respects the rights of the individual and resists the easy assumption on the part of the state that it is entitled to dictate what we do with our labours or our bodies.
There is of course a vast difference between presumed consent and compulsory donation. Individuals will have the option to refuse consent in advance, and The Times reports that “families will have the final say”, which seems to give further scope for an individual’s wishes to be defended by their nearest and dearest even if the proper forms haven’t been filled in.
Provided that the process of opting out is not made artificially arduous, and that those who take it are not harassed to change their mind, this policy will fall on the right side of the line between ‘nudging’ and straightforward coercion.
Yet it does nonetheless represent a shift in the state’s attitude towards the individual, and it’s always important to remember that individual, unobjectionable policy choices can snowball in undesirable directions if left to their own devices. If ‘presumed consent’ is not to evolve in time into a stronger assault on a citizen’s right to choose – which compulsory donation would certainly constitute – then the rights and protections offered to those seeking to opt out must be carefully guarded.
Mounting that defence will need politicians with sufficient confidence in their case to take on the next generation of utilitarians, who will point to the organs ‘lost’ through opt-outs. Unfortunately, a Conservative Party hopelessly in thrall to the public health nostrum that longevity is a good that justifies almost any level of state interference in individual choice (bringing an end to ‘preventable death’!) will be ill-equipped for that battle.