Sunday, 7 September 2008

Who Owns Me?

I don't carry a donor card. I used to but over the years I seem to have misplaced it. I used to give blood until I was told to take a year out due to my body piercing. Time has rolled on and I've done nothing to revert back to carrying the card or offering my blood again.

I had a rethink this week when the government rolled out plans to consider the opting out of organ donation. Transplant waiting lists are long and people are dying every day who have perfectly good organs that could save a life or many lives in some cases. In the UK we have a poor rate of organ donation as opposed to our European neighbours. To this respect do we have the right to retain ownership of our bodily parts after we die, or is it ethically right for the medical profession to harvest them after our death if we have not specifically barred consent?

So, if the legislation goes ahead, do I opt out and prevent them taking what they want, or do I remain as I am and allow them to assume that as I haven't opted out, I'm happy for them to have whatever is needed at the time? It's an emotive decision as it doesn't just involve me. Or does it? When does my body not become my own anymore? I like to think that my body is just that, mine - to do with as I please. But at some points in my life legalities have taken that right away from me. Up to 24 weeks of pregnancy I retain ownership of a baby growing inside me. At any point until then I can destroy that life and have it removed from me without any recompense or worries of legal action being brought against me. After 24 weeks, no matter how I feel, I have no option but to accept that a part of my body is now 'owned' by a national establishment. When the baby is born I resume ownership as I then have the choice whether to keep the baby or give it up. In cases where mothers are mentally incapable of bringing up a child the decision is made for them, but my argument here is with people who are fully in control of their mental faculties and completely aware of the decisions they are facing with regard to ownership of their bodies.

So, where is the line drawn? If I choose not to opt out, I'm giving permission for the surgeons to open me up and take what they like. Can I choose to specify what they can and can't take? Would it be judicious for me to do this? For what reason would I be selective? My husband has always said that he would allow my organs to be taken, but not my eyes. It's a part of me he doesn't want removed from me. When speaking to him earlier this week about his feelings regarding this I asked him whether it was fair to allow this sentimentality to prevent somebody else from having the gift of sight. After all, they're no use to me or him when I'm gone - so why not let somebody benefit from them - surely it would be better for a part of me he loves to live on in another person?

I firmly believe that when I'm dead, that's it. I have my own thoughts about my soul, but my organic body - what use is it to bury me complete? Why waste me? By allowing the state to claim ownership of my body prior to burial makes sense. It relieves my family of responsibility. Their job after my death is to dispose of me - not drag out ownership. Does it really matter that they bury only 60% of my physical body or whatever is left of me after my useful bits have been removed? Surely their obligation in their memory of me is to the person I was when I was alive, not what's left remaining in a box.

Developing this thought further, I do believe the opt out scheme is feasible. Many people oppose it. They worry that doctors will declare deaths much sooner knowing they can get in there and harvest organs. They worry that the extent to which a life will be fought for will diminish and life support machines will be turned off earlier than they would have been in the past. I don't believe this. There is rigid set of tests to confirm the presence of brain death and I truly believe these will still be adhered to, no matter where the law stands with regard to organ donation.

For relatives I believe the pain of having to make the decision during a time of unimaginable grief will be lifted. It's hard enough to deal with losing a loved one, especially unexpectedly, without having to be rational about somebody cutting them open and removing bits from them. Knowing that your loved one could be increasing somebody else chances should bring comfort, especially as with the current system of opting in the percentage chance of being a match via a random selective process is minimal. Imagine the increased percentage match if more people were deemed to be suitable.

But where does suitability lie? Do we live our lives knowing that one day a surgeon will be looking at our organs making choices as to whether they're good enough to put inside someone else? Will this make us aware of what we're doing to our bodies? Will it make us look after ourselves? Will it give people with low self-esteem a bit of a boost knowing that some day they'll be invaluable, even when they're not aware of it? If you feel good giving blood, imagine your euphoria at knowing your body can save at least six people. It certainly gives incentive to stop people abusing themselves.

The debate is continuous. I could ask about ownership of my childrens bodies. Do I have the consent until they are legally able to take that decision for themselves? What if I'm mentally ill - does the person with power of attorney over my affairs have the moral and ethical right to make that decision on my behalf? Where does ownership lie? If I'm pregnant and lie brain dead does my partner have the right to insist on me being kept alive to allow my child to grow and then relinquish ownership when the child is born? Where is the line drawn?

But one thing I am certain of. If I choose to opt out and deny another person the right to increased life expectancy, then I have absolutely no right to expect to receive an organ during my life should the need arise. If I opt out of donation, then by association I believe that should be viewed as opting out of receiving and I forfeit the right to organ transplantation.

1 comment:

TxGambit said...

Very awesome. I agree with you 100%. I am an organ donor too but usually they don't want my blood because it is too low in iron.

Interesting tidbit about the UK looking at this.

I don't have an answer on ownership but I completely agree with you when you said that if you opt out, you should not expect to get an organ either.

My Aunt is alive today because of a liver transplant 16 yrs ago.

I want to be cremated too so they might as well take everything that is usable. I won't need it. :)