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.


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.

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.

Up yours Nisbett: whereupon I lose it.

March 24, 2008

Via Pharyngula I see that Matt Nisbett of Framing Science infamy, has decided that PZ Myers and Dawkins are not fit to present science to the public.

F*ck you Nisbett. You don’t get to decide who speaks for science. You don’t get to decide who discusses science in public and who doesn’t. Science is not a religion. It has no central power. It has no dogma or holy text, and no-one dictates who speaks about it, and you, Nisbett, are not the bloody Pope. Far from it.

I’ve got news for you Nisbett: I’m an atheist largely because books by people like Dawkins showed me I’d been lied to for 20 years. You don’t like that? Well up yours.

I do.

What I don’t like is the fact that people like Ben Steins are lying to people. I don’t like the fact that those lies will penetrate churches, and that people – like myself 13 years ago – who are ill-equipped with the facts to counter those lies will believe those lies. And I really, really, don’t like the fact that people like you, who pretend to support science, are pulling out every rhetorical trick in the book to try to ensure that people – like I was 13 years ago – will not get good science from the mouths of scientists.

Up yours Nisbett.

I am really pissed off. Nisbett, it would seem, would prefer that christians not be confronted with the realities of science.


Ed Balls is a prat.

March 5, 2008

More comment, this time from the Guardian, on the JSF race row, with – possibly – the dumbest comment from a Labour minister I have heard in a long time. And that’s saying something.

Education Secretary, Ed Balls, disagrees that the JFS admission policy is racist:

In a written submission Balls said most religions were “disproportionately represented” among certain racial, ethnic or national origins and underrepresented among others

Surely if your religious position is that one cannot belong to your religion unless your mother was also born into that religion, then that religion will not be, “under-represented” among other racial or ethnic groups; it will, by definition, be “unrepresented”. But it gets stupider:

He also warned against interference from secular courts in matters of doctrine and theology.

In the name of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, what is this man smoking. This man is a cabinet minister, and – more to the point – the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families; and he thinks that the court system should not hear a dispute about racial discrimination in school entries!

Should “secular” courts, then, not interfere in sexual discrimination cases? They’re often “matters of doctrine and theology”. What about covering up child abuse cases? They were clearly matters of doctrine, if not also of theology. Perhaps “secular” courts shouldn’t consider cases of honour killings, or killings of apostates. And so the list goes on. Ed Balls should be utterly ashamed of himself.

Church welfare provision?

January 30, 2008

Via Terry Sanderson writing on-line at the Guardian, we learn that the government has apparently, for the last two years, been in consultation with the Church to provide faith-based welfare:

For two years or more, Government Ministers have been in conversation with church leaders about the possibility of the church providing extensive welfare services, rather in the way that the church plays a major part in education.[My emphasis]

Read that highlighted section again: rather in the way that the church plays a major part in education.

So how do the churches play a major part of eduction? It’s quite simple really: the churches take huge swathes of cash from the government to run 1 in 3 state-funded schools. The churches then refuse entrance to the people paying for the state-funded school unless they both attend church, and want their children indoctrinated into the church’s religion. Is this really what the government has in mind for the welfare system? Not CofE? Well, no disability benefit for you. Not Catholic? No dental service. If not, what the hell does the bishop mean?

Both Government and church are well aware that in the Scandinavian countries and Germany the church provides extensive welfare services. These countries have a church tax, which is paid by most citizens. The money received through taxation is returned to the church in support of its ministers, its buildings and in making possible the extensive welfare work done in its name. admit that I have sometimes wished that we had a church tax in the United Kingdom.

So clearly part of my guess is correct: in a nation which is increasingly secular, a nation that increasingly does not go to church, the bishop wants to introduce a church tax. But note that this is actually unconnected to his preceding comments on providing welfare: the church tax would not be to pay for this church welfare program, it’s to pay for buildings and ministers. Welfare would only be an after-thought.

The Church of England has very strong roots in local communities, making it well placed in many contexts to deliver quality services in a way that truly understands the local situation, which government departments may not. We very much want to be part of the discussion about the new opportunities that are opening up.

Oh, I bet he does! Especially since he also says:

The church is treated as a partner, and its work is trusted, rather than controlled.

Presumably, then, part of this “discussion” will involve telling the government how trustworthy it is, and that it’s welfare provisions don’t need state control. You know, trustworthy like catholic adoption agencies refusing to deal with gays…

And there’s more:

The church is signing 25-year contracts for the new academies.

This, apparently, is an example of “delivering social needs”. 25 schools handed over to the church, which church rules for entrance. “Delivering social needs” apparently is only important if your christian. Or, more precisely, a member of the CofE.  Of course the church is delighted, but that does not make it, “delivering social needs”, that makes it, “delivering the church’s needs”.

If the church is to be a partner, it must be trusted by government and not controlled. As I perceive it, recent governments have found that very difficult. Church projects of course would be audited, but not controlled.

Has no-one told the bishop that old phrase, “trust is earned”. The church hasn’t earned trust, so why would if “of course” not be controlled by the state? The state controls welfare. You don’t hand over vast sums of cash to a single organisation to manage welfare programs and not control it. Even if we ignore the churches appalling record on admissions to church schools, you just don’t do that.

The church very much wishes to be part of the discussion, but it also has serious concerns and misgivings, which need to be discussed frankly and addressed. It needs to be treated as a long-term partner which is trusted even when it wants to challenge the current effectiveness of delivery.

I have a better idea. Disestablish the church, and keep the damn thing out of politics. It has no business running schools as it is, it certainly has no business running the welfare system, and it most certainly has no business collecting taxes.

This is pretty scary stuff just on its own. But this is not the bishop of Carlisle just mouthing off, this is the bishop acting in his capacity on the bench in the house of Lords, putting forward the church’s position as part of British governance.