LEICESTER, United Kingdom – England’s bishops are urging people to speak to their families and loved ones about their organ donation decisions.
The call comes as the country’s National Health Service (NHS) has launched a “Leave Them Certain” campaign, which follows 2020 legislation changing organ donation from an “opt in” decision to an “opt out” decision, meaning that medical staff will presume a patient wants their organs donated unless informed otherwise.
“I welcome the ‘Leave Them Certain’ initiative as a step in the right direction of ensuring that families are always included in the end-of-life care and decisions of their loved ones,” said Bishop Paul Mason, the bishop for the armed forces and head of healthcare for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.
“The death of a relative or loved one is one of the hardest and most human challenges we face but having these conversations before that time can help us to feel more at peace knowing that we are carrying out the wishes of those whom we will forever hold in our hearts,” he said in a statement.
When the law went into effect on May 20, 2020, the bishops issued a statement noting that although the Catholic Church “has consistently encouraged its followers to consider organ donation … a system of presumed consent risks taking away the right of the individual to exercise this decision, and therefore potentially undermines the concept of donation as a gift.”
The bishops also issued guidelines for Catholics on organ donation, which include a brief outline on Catholic teaching and instructions on how to record a decision online via the Organ Donation Register (ODR).
The bishops noted that the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that, “Organ donation after death is a noble and meritorious act and is to be encouraged as an expression of generous solidarity.”
There are exceptions to the law: Those under 18, those who lack the mental capacity understand this arrangement, visitors to England, those not living in England voluntarily and those who have lived in England for less than a year before their death.
In addition, those who have had COVID-19, or have been exposed to the virus, will not be considered as organ donors.
When they launched the “Leave Them Certain” campaign earlier this month, NHS Blood and Transplant said that family members will always be involved before organ donation goes ahead.
“Your family can override your decision if they aren’t sure what you want. So, leave them certain,” the health service said in a statement.
When the new law went into effect, the Oxford-based Anscombe Bioethics Centre issued a statement saying that the opt out law and its “deemed consent” negated the very idea of organ “donation,” an encouraged everyone to have “conversations with family or friends about their wishes in relation to organ donation, for the avoidance of doubt.”
David Albert Jones, the director of the Anscombe Bioethics Centre, told Crux the “Leave Them Certain” campaign is step in the right direction to alleviate some of the concerns stemming from the legislation.
“Catholics can welcome the current campaign ‘Leave Them Certain’ which is a move away from ‘deemed consent’ and a move towards making donation a real decision of the person. It also gives people the ability to know if their relative did not wish to donate their organs,” he said.
Echoing these sentiments, Mason said people need to “talk more openly” about the issue of organ donation.
“There is a need to instill in people’s hearts, especially in the hearts of the young, a genuine and deep appreciation of the need for brotherly love, a love that can find expression in the decision to become an organ donor,” the bishop said.
“It might seem a bit scary at first, but instigating these conversations ultimately gives us all more confidence to be able to speak openly about our wishes at the end of life. This will give our family and friends the certainty of knowing that even if we are unable to express these wishes in our time of dying, they will know that they are doing what we wanted,” he added.
Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome