Opt-out organ donation without presumptions


Saunders B (2012) Opt-out organ donation without presumptions. Journal of Medical Ethics, 38 (2), pp. 69-72.;

This paper defends an 'opt-out' scheme for organ procurement, by distinguishing this system from 'presumed consent' (which the author regards as an erroneous justification of it). It, first, stresses the moral importance of increasing the supply of organs and argues that making donation easier need not conflict with altruism. It then goes on to explore one way that donation can be increased, namely by adopting an opt-out system, in which cadaveric organs are used unless the deceased (or their family) registered an objection. Such policies are often labelled 'presumed consent', but it is argued that critics are right to be sceptical of this idea -- consent is shown to be an action, rather than a mental attitude, and thus not something that can be presumed. Either someone has consented or they have not, whatever their attitude to the use of their organs. Thankfully, an opt-out scheme need not rest on the presumption of consent. Actual consent can be given implicitly, by one's actions, so it is argued that the failure to register an objection (given certain background conditions) should itself be taken as sign of consent. Therefore, it is permissible to use the organs of someone who did not opt out, because they have -- by their silence -- actually consented.

Journal of Medical Ethics: Volume 38, Issue 2

Publication date29/02/2012
PublisherBMJ Publishing Group
Publisher URL