On presumed consent.

November 28, 2008

I am a big supporter of the idea of “presumed consent” when it comes to organ donation and I am frequently baffled when I hear the arguments of those people who are against the idea.  I can’t fathom it.  The two systems basically boil down to this: under the current “opt-in” system, a person who dies, and whose organs are suitable for donation, must have provided prior consent before the organs in his cadaver can be used for transplantation.  That consent can be challenged by relatives, and directly over-ruled even where clear consent has been given.  Under presumed consent, a person is presumed to have given consent, unless they explicitly register their lack of consent.  The family of the deceased may not overule the presumption of consent, but neither may they overall the explicit lack of consent.

Normally I expect the opposition to presumed consent to come from the more fundamental religious folk.  I would imagine that to most atheists, the idea that a cadaver has any intrinsic value would be self-evidently nonsense.  So I was suprised when I came across this letter (search for “Fairbairns”) in the National Secular Society Newsline e-mail, by one Zoë Fairbairns:

It’s not just religious people who are opposed to “presumed consent” on organ donation. There are good secular and humanist arguments for insisting that our bodies belong to us rather than to the government – the same arguments which are made for free choice on abortion and assisted suicide.

I am terribly confused by this statement, “our bodies belong to us ….”.  How can a body – a corpse – belong to itself.  A corpse is not a person.  A corpse has no legal rights. A corpse cannot own anything.  Forget about any arguments about free choice on abortion or assisted suicide, or any nonsense about the government owning human transplant organs, one thing is abundantly clear: a corpse does not belong to a dead person.  The arguments regarding abortion and assisted suicide in this case are utterly irrelevant: those are arguments being made by the living.

We’re told that two-thirds of British people support presumed consent. Fine. Let them carry donor cards, and their consent will be — quite correctly — presumed. No doubt they are all carrying cards already. If they are not, the sincerity of their support must surely be questioned. Perhaps they only support it for other people?

Presumed consent changes one thing, and one thing only: who is required to register a wish with respects to organ donation.  Under the present system, everyone who would like their organs to be donated after their death needs to inform people, and ideally needs to carry a card, or be on the NHS organ donor register.  Under presumed consent, only those who do not want to be donors need bother explain to anyone why, or to register this wish on a register. Ms Fairbanks seems to want to place the burden on the majority, rather than the minority.  And she accuses the medical practitioners of arrogance.

An article entitled Organ Donation – an Outline for General Practitioners, published in 2002 by the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) makes clear that surgeons removing organs for donation frequently anaesthetise the “corpse” – suggesting that they are aware of the risk that it may not be a corpse at all. The article is available online.

This is a real clanger.  I mean this is beyond stupid.  From the quoted link:

Those members of the public who read media reports on medical matters will remember some controversy reported on this activity. It is more or less standard practice for anaesthetic agents to be used during organ retrieval.

The logic behind this will escape those who say ‘if the donor is dead, why is an anaesthetic needed – and if he’s not dead, you should not be doing this.’ The difficult truth, as stated by the anaesthetists and surgeons, is that the cadaver may retain some reflex movement that hinders the smooth retrieval of organs and makes the transplant surgeon’s work difficult. The use of muscle relaxants, for example, helps the process. The reasons have been well argued by the College of Anaesthetists, and, for the time being, have been generally accepted by the profession.

Does Zoë really believe that when people die, they just suddenly go limp like they do in the movies?  I’m only a lowly computer programmer, and I knew what I was about to read before I even clicked on the link.  So she lied.  She’s trying to make a secular case against presumed consent and she lied.  And I personally think she lies again:

I used to carry a donor card, but the RCGP article, coupled with the terrifying arrogance behind the notion of “presumed consent” has made me tear it up. As the sole proprietor of my body, I will certainly opt out of any “presumed consent” system. I hope I will not be required to fabricate a religious reason for this.

She used to carry a donor card, but read that anaesthetics are used during organ removal (and then failed to read the rest of the paragraph), and she didn’t like presumed consent being discussed (even though it wouldn’t have affected her personal choice in any way) and threw her card away.  Surely, though, if she was an ex-organ donor, mere discussion of other forms of providing consent wouldn’t change her mind that organ donation was a good thing. I hope she remembered to remove her name from the Organ Donor register…

Zoë is not going to be the sole proprietor of her corpse when she is dead.  She is entitled to every say over her body while she is still alive, but once she’s dead it’s game over. She will not be able to own anything, because she will be dead.  Just as I or you will not be able to own anything once we are dead.  Sure discussions can be made about who does own it (the deceased’s family would be a better – although far from ideal – choice), but arguing that the dead can own their bodies is ludicrous.

As a side-note.  If you are in the UK and would like to ensure your organs are donated after your death, please remember to add your details to the organ donor register.  Details here.


Another one bites the metaphorical dust

November 27, 2008

And this time, it’s a police officer.

A Christian policeman who objected to being ‘bombarded’ at work by emails and posters promoting gay rights and events has been sacked for misconduct.

PC Graham Cogman, 50, responded to the ‘politically correct’ campaign by sending emails to colleagues which quoted religious texts and suggested homosexual sex was sinful.

Of course, being a good upstanding Christian citizen, he feels he has been discriminated against.

He confirmed he was considering an appeal against the dismissal and was continuing with plans to have his case heard by an employment tribunal on the grounds that he had been harassed over his Christian beliefs.

Apparently the police force don’t offer remedial courses in basic English.  He was not sacked because of what he believed – he was sacked because of what he did.  He is a police officer, and his duty is to uphold the law, not his personal beliefs.  If he cannot separate his personal beliefs from his actions, then he has no business being a police officer.

Good riddance to bad rubbish. One less bigot in the police can’t be a bad thing.

Legalised bigotry

July 10, 2008

This is ridiculous, infuriating, and just damned outrageous.  I previously wrote about a civil registrar who refused to do her job, because she was a homophobic bigot, and didn’t want to do her job.  She took Islington Council to an employment tribunal, claiming unfair discrimination.

Infuriatingly, she actually won.

A marriage registrar was harassed for refusing to conduct same-sex ceremonies, a tribunal has ruled.

Okay, she was harassed for attempting to break the law, which seems fine to me.  She’d be harassed if she was a racist or sexist, especially if her ignorance prevented from doing her job.  But in this case:

The tribunal ruled that Miss Ladele was discriminated against on grounds of religious beliefs and was harassed.

Or, in layman’s speak, “but it was okay, because she’s religious”.

This is bullshit.  This is utterly incredulous bullshit.

It is illegal in the UK to refuse to provide services to a person based on their sexual orientation.  Catholic adoption agencies fought hard and dirty to secure a religious opt-out.  Catholic politicians fought hard to secure a religious opt-out.  They failed.  The law of the land is quite clear: it is not acceptable – no: it is illegal – to refuse to provide a public service to a person based upon their sexual orientation.  Yet apparently, this employment tribunal thinks that there can be an exception to this law, because – erm – a person is religious.

Miss Ladele said she was being effectively forced to choose between her religion and her £31,000-a-year job as a result.

Of course she bloody was!  Like it or lump it, she provides a public service. As such, it is freaking illegal for her not to provide that service irrespective of the person’s sexual orientation.  If she didn’t like it she could simply find another f*cking job. This ruling makes a complete mockery of parliament (which doesn’t normally need a hand to be made a mockery of), and a complete mockery of the law.

But this pig-ignorant little bigot knows no bounds:

“It is a victory for religious liberty, not just for myself but for others in a similar position to mine.

Bullshit.  This – like every other debate going on within the churches at the moment – has f*ck-all to do with “religious liberty”, and everything to do with personal bigotry.

The next time some pissant little theist tries to claim religious discrimination, and state intimidation against religion, or some ridiculous form of martyrdom because they’re being oppressed by the state machinary, I’m not going to bother to point to the bishops in the house of Lords. Nor will I bother to point to the huge number of state schools run by religious institutions, or the ridiculous amount of money the Anglican church owns, or the unprecedented restrictions on the right to protest in Australia over the pope’s – hideously mis-named – “World Youth Day”.  I will simply point to this decision, which shows just how much power the religious really do have.

It’s sickening.

We’re dangerous

April 7, 2008

Atheists are dangerous. Even more dangerous than secularism. We are this evil:

It’s dangerous to the progression of this state. And it’s dangerous for our children to even know that your philosophy exists! 

The philosophy of totalitarianism is taught in almost every school in the Western world, the philosophies of Stalin, Mao and Hitler are taught in most schools, and children will most certainly come across them.  Children are – or should be – familiar with Hitler’s odious “final solution”. The philosophy of Islamic fundamentalism has, in recent years, been frequently on the front pages of newspapers, and headline news. But all this is small fry.

Atheism is dangerous. It is insidious. It will kill your wife, place porn on your computer and e-mail it to your neighbors. Its mere existence will cause a collapse in space-time and tune your television to hard-core porn. It will turn your cat in to a dog, and your dog in to a spitting cobra.  It will change you in to a lemming, and force you to jump off of a cliff – even though lemmings don’t actually do this. It is also a strange shade of mauve.

It is so dangerous, that even knowing that it exists will destroy everything.  Even being aware of the existence of atheists will corrupt the youth, and destroy civilization.

You have been warned.

Yours, the Evil Atheist Conspiracy.

The fight against blasphemy laws lumbers on

March 28, 2008

It’s almost been the de-facto rallying cry of the National Secular Society for 140 years, but recently the government and the Lords have voted to abolish the UK common law offense of blasphemous libel. Needless to say that I joined the rest of the National Secular Society in celebrating, but the celebration may be a little muted. Even as the debate was raging, following the attempt of Christian Voice to bring a private prosecution against the BBC, doubts were being expressed over the sincerity of the Church of England in welcoming its abolition.

At the same time the abolition of blasphemous libel was being aired, the church – as part of the government’s, “short sharp consultation” – urged for more laws to protect religious “sensibilities”. Even though he was – rightly – largely ignored at the time, he may still get his wish:

GENEVA — The top U.N. rights body on Thursday passed a resolution proposed by Islamic countries saying it is deeply concerned about the defamation of religions and urging governments to prohibit it.

The first thing that sprung to my mind when reading this were the phrases, “defamation of religions” and “prohibit it”. Which looks, if anything, to be more draconian that the recently abolished blasphemy law. But – at least according to this report – that is not how the EU saw it:

The European Union said the text was one-sided because it primarily focused on Islam

Surely it would be better to say that, “the text is one-sided because it focuses on religion”. If this is an accurate description of the EU’s position on the text, it is truly frightening. Is this to suggest that, if the explicit mention of Islam were removed from the text, the EU would uphold the requirement that countries must adopt censorious laws prohibiting, “defamation” of religion? What is meant by “defamation” in this sense? Well:

“expresses deep concern at attempts to identify Islam with terrorism, violence and human rights violations.”

I don’t even want to examine the question as to whether or not it is right to identify strands of Islam with terrorism or violence. But you have to admit that there’s a huge irony in an group on the UN Human Rights Council drafting a proposal to limit freedom of expression regarding religious matters; and it’s even more ironic when the group is called the “Organisation of Islamic Conference” and is complaining, specifically, that Islam is being related to human rights violations.

Just for the record, the UNHRC is supposed to be upholding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states (Article 19):

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers

This organisation has now passed a resolution which effectively says, “except if it’s about religion”.

Blasphemous libel as a common law offense has been abolished in the UK. This is fantastic news, and long, long overdue. But the stupid is still out there, and in high political office. The fight for secularism is still on.

Do Not Want

March 11, 2008

From the BBC

School-leavers should be encouraged to swear an oath of allegiance to Queen and country, says a report commissioned by Gordon Brown on British citizenship.

Do Not Want. Why? Well, three reasons:

1) the Queen. I’m a staunch British republican[note]. I think telling teenagers that they should be encouraged to “swear allegiance” to the Queen is innately abhorrent. It’s high time that the archaic system of heredity monarchy – and that abortion of democracy that is the house of Lords – be abolished as the figure head of state, and it’s position in propping up the church of England as the official religion of the UK.

2) the Country. What does that mean in the UK? Should Scottish teenagers swear allegiance to Scotland, or Britain? What about Welsh? English? Irish? The naivety being demonstrated by suggesting that teenagers should “be encouraged” to pledge allegiance to something that even it’s adult citizen’s can’t agree is a good thing is astonishing.

3) Allegiance to the state. The very principle of pledging allegiance to a state strikes me as an insane idea. That one should consider oneself to be obligated to be loyal to anything other than oneself, and one’s personal moral integrity, is the antithesis of freedom. One should never consider oneself to be obligated to be loyal to the state, for down that road is nothing but trouble.

So it’s a bad idea – a ridiculously ill-thought and ill-conceived idea from a person who one would hope should know better, but consistently shows that he doesn’t. Incidentally, in writing this, in particular in expressing my republican sentiments, it would appear I have committed treason.

(Note to American readers: republican here is used strictly in the British sense of the belief that an elected citizen should be the head of state as opposed to the hereditary monarch, and that the British people should be citizens of the state, as opposed to subjects of the monarch.)[back]

No thanks

March 8, 2008

Via the NSS I cam across this letter in the Times. All I can say is, no thanks:

The atheist could reasonably argue that his sensibilities are offended by the religious symbols he sees all around him, and that there ought to be a law to protect the sensitivities of atheists.

I don’t think the religious should have laws to protect their fragile sensibilities, and I’d like to think that most atheist’s sensibilities are not so fragile as to require the law to protect them. The religious have long demonised atheism and secularism whilst demanding protection for their bigoted and misogynistic sermons, and they should be free to continue to do so. Just as I should be free to call their sermons fanciful, bigoted and misogynistic. Things are much simpler that way.