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In the unlikely event that anyone wants my organs, it should be up to me

Rod Liddle says that the notion of ‘compulsory donations’ is oxymoronic and the pinnacle of the medical profession’s zeal to get its hands on our corpses

16 January 2008

12:00 AM

16 January 2008

12:00 AM

Rod Liddle says that the notion of ‘compulsory donations’ is oxymoronic and the pinnacle of the medical profession’s zeal to get its hands on our corpses

The question is, I suppose, hypothetical in my case. Or beyond even hypothetical. They are not going to want the liver of someone who opens a bottle of Rioja just as Naughtie announces it’s time for Thought for the Day. I find it impossible to listen to that vapid, platitudinous drivel without some form of sustenance close to hand. When it’s that endlessly emollient Sikh bloke, or Anne Atkins, I make it a large Jack Daniels.

Nor, I suppose, would they want my lungs, the interior of which, through a copious and ever improving intake of cigarettes, now resemble the contents of a Tate & Lyle tin of black molasses; there’s about two square inches left right at the top, for oxygen. My kidneys, I think, are OK — it’s literally weeks since I passed any blood. My heart, meanwhile, is sitting there, doing its stuff, biding its time for a while. It will attack when my back is turned, when I least expect it. The medical vultures are also after corneas, I understand; but again, mine will be of little use. I view the world through windows encrusted with grime, both literally and metaphorically. These days when I watch football on TV I have to guess where the ball is, unless I sit with my nose touching the screen. The guessing is quite good fun, actually, especially when England are playing. But I don’t suppose they’d want my corneas either.


This has been, in many ways, a bad government. But it has never been worse than when its own controlling, authoritarian impulses are buttressed by the views of our fundamentalist medical clergy. It was not enough, for example, to enact legislation which ensured that people who did not wish to eat and drink near smokers could do so; they had to follow the sort of Hizb ut-Tahrir line from the BMA et al., and ban smoking absolutely everywhere — so that an awful lot of people don’t go to pubs and restaurants any more and the pleasure of enjoying a quiet drink or meal with friends has been lost, presumably forever. (Take a look at the pubs these days and then tell me, when a government report suggests there has been no decline in trade, that you are not being fed a large vat of downright lies.) Scarcely a day passes without some puffed-up, hectoring medical oaf insisting that we have to behave as the current medical fashion insists we must behave, or they won’t bother treating us; increasingly, the government goes along with such deranged, apocalyptic rubbish. New Labour never needed much of an excuse to involve itself in our private daily lives and it is thus a great friend of the medical establishment, evidenced by those new GP contracts the government has signed up to, which absolve doctors from treating any illness which occurs once Trisha or Richard & Judy has finished on TV.

Not so long ago, Labour was against the notion that the corpses of British people should be plundered for the valuable organs they contain; last time it came before parliament the then health secretary John Reid railed against such a liberty, such an infraction of the rights of the individual. Now, though, it seems to have changed its mind and henceforth people will have to make it clear, before they die, that they do not wish to be relieved of their organs once they’ve been killed through medical incompetence or malfeasance. (Remember: 30,000 British people every year are killed through medical mistakes, making doctors rather more dangerous to your health than, say, smoking. Or walking in front of a lorry.)

The main cheerleader for the rip-out-their-kidneys lobby comes, of course, from the medical profession. The government’s chief medical officer Sir Liam Donaldson has argued for compulsory organ donations for a very long time and takes a sort of fundamentalist position: it may well be that Sir Liam wishes to rip your kidneys out and give them to someone else regardless or not of whether you are dead. But certainly, once dead, he believes the surgeons should immediately wade in with their secateurs and their freezer bags. Sir Liam, you will remember, was the chap who urged the government to go further and further in its anti-smoking legislation: if it was up to him, smoking would be banned in private homes and perhaps also on the moon. He is also the chap who a year or two back confidently predicted, on the BBC’s Sunday AM programme, that at least 50,000 British people would die from avian flu and that a death toll of 750,000 was by no means out of the question. The death toll so far has been, of course, nil — but we have had no revised forecast from old Liam.

Even the various lobbying groups in favour of compulsory donations (a typically New Labour oxymoron, that, by the way) accept that the NHS does not have the infrastructure to cope with a large increase in donated organs; that, in effect, changing the law in the way the government envisages would be pointless. But common sense rarely impinges when the medical profession are astride their latest hobby horse, whooping and whipping away. Grab that liver before it’s cold!

The notion that your body, once the life has been squeezed out of it, should be the property of the state and subject to whatever hacking about the doctors deem necessary is, of course, theft of the most invasive and iniquitous kind. It also strips from the dying those last vestiges of dignity and volition. I wouldn’t for a second contend with the fact that we do need more donor organs, especially kidneys; but the answer to that problem is a campaign of persuasion and education, rather than the arrival of the transplant butchers as soon as you’ve breathed your last.

The main accusation to be levelled at the BMA and the GMC and what have you is that they fail to treat patients as human beings; that they are viewed instead as an array of disembodied, problematic health issues; a dodgy ticker here, clogged-up lungs there and so on. You might expect the doctors, then, to view a cadaver simply as an inert mass which, by rights, belongs to them. But the government is there to protect us from such base utilitarianism. Or at least it should be.


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