Should Organ Donation be Compulsory?

Channel 4 is currently mid-way through a series of short talking-head films on the question of whether organ donation should be compulsory: as I write this, two have been broadcast, with another five to come.

The first one is by John Harris, rehearsing familiar arguments about the permissibility of mandated donation (as he did here) and live-donor organ sales (as he and Charles Erin did here).  I find myself thinking that he’s probably right, and straightforwardly so.

But I’ve really enjoyed Derek House’s contribution; sadly for him, my enjoyment is almost entirely of the pointing-and-laughing sort.  House objects to mandatory donation – or, by the sound of it, any donation at all – and explains this in terms of his being a Jehovah’s Witness.  He has two lines of argument against transplantation, and one really strange line that he thinks is an argument but is just bizarre.

Let’s get the bizarreness out of the way.  He has a couple of anecdotes about people whose personalities have changed after an organ transplant.  So, er…


OK.  Moving on.

The first of the more substantial arguments – comparatively more substantial, you understand – is an appeal to the Bible.  He basically says that an organ donation is “very close” to what the Bible says about blood.  (I’m not going to give time references: the whole thing’s only 110 seconds long.)  A heart transplant, he claims, is very like blood being given.  Why is that a problem?  Well, a quick scout around Google takes me to the Watchtower Society; it would appear that there’s a few verses in the Bible that refer to blood, and these are interpreted as referring to transfusion as well.  So the argument would seem to be that transplantation is a bit like blood transfusion, and that that’s a bit like a few things that worried a small group of ancients.  Or, put another way: if (1) you’re satisfied that a small group of ancients was correct to be worried about A, and (2) you’re satisfied that A is similar to B, and (3) you’re satisfied that B is similar to C, then that’s enough to show that (4) we ought to be worried about C.  And if C is the receipt of a transplanted organ, (5) we ought to be worried about D, the donation of an organ for a life-saving transplant.  No, I don’t understand the leap from receipt to donation either.

I don’t doubt that House is sincere in his beliefs.  But: really.  That’s just lamentably poor reasoning by anyone’s standard.

The second argument is that transplantation “is clearly against nature”.  Presumably, being against nature makes something wrong.  Let’s just ignore that this message is delivered by means of a device fabricated from materials not found in nature that allows instant communication with people thousands of miles away.  It’d be petty to point that out.

(Thanks to Aeron Haworth for the pointer.)

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