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January 12, 2012

The news program of the Swedish state radio, “Dagens Eko” (“The Daily Echo” or possibly “Echo of today”) has apparently run a piece on organ donations. It has, once again, been suggested that the baseline assumption ought to be changed. The current regulation assumes you’re not a donor, unless you explicitly declared yourself willing to donate. Lots of more organs would become available if everybody was assumed to be donors, except for those who explicitly declared themselves not to be one.  Supposedly, 80% of the Swedish population are willing to donate, but few actively register as donors.

Since I live in Germany, I don’t listen to Swedish radio. I found out thanks to Daniel Persson on “Svenska Dagbladet” (“The Swedish Daily”, Sweden’s second-biggest morning paper*). Persson bluntly states that “you have no rights to just take our bodies“.

Tja. Societal contracts are what you make them. I personally don’t view the proposed shift as such a great leap. The state already has a right to lots of the things we do and own. A percentage of everything we earn, for a start. In some situations, the state even makes a claim to our bodies. Mandatory vaccinations, anyone? Or mandatory disclosure of everybody you’ve had sexual intercourse with, should you turn out to have an STD?

(Basic vaccinations ARE mandatory in Sweden, aren’t they? Oh. They aren’t (third page in this pdf, numbered page 1 for whatever reason). Wow. Fooled me there. Hey, that’s another interesting discussion: how a societal contract is percieved  versus what it formally is. Of course everybody is supposed to be vaccinated. I totally percieved it as mandatory.)

Back to organ donations. As long as there is an opt-out clause, I can’t say I mind too much if the basic assumption would shift to “everybody donates”. However, I don’t trust the Swedish society to keep their opt-out clauses. Historically, opt-out clauses have been used to pacify naysayers when pushing through reforms, and then ten years later the opt-out clauses just disappear. After all, the only possible reason to not want to perform an abortion is that you’re a horrible, horrible misogynist, right? </irony> I hope we will have “synthetic” organs, grown from the patient’s own cells, soon. But ten years is probably too optimistic.

Anyway, I have a great idea for how to get more people to sign up as donors. Make the whole organ donation process based on mutuality! If you don’t want your organs to live on in another person after you’re dead, you are probably not comfortable with the idea of carrying another person’s organs in your body either. Make it so that only people registered as organ donors are eligible to recieve a donated organ for themselves or their minor children! Also make it so that people who have recieved an organ as adults may not refuse to donate their own organs after death. Only those who contribute are allowed to benefit. It’s fair, it’s transparent, and it would make an excellent motivation for people to actually sign up.

* Does English even have the term “morning paper”? Formally, it refers to when in the day a new number is released. In practice, it’s rather a statement on what journalistic profile the paper has. Morning papers have a more reasonable tone, more text, less pictures, and are aiming for a more educated readership. Evening papers have a more sensationalistic tone, less (and bigger) text, more pictures, and are aiming for a more uneducated readership.

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