Catholics are being encouraged to oppose government proposals to increase the amount of organs available for transplant surgery under a system which presumes the consent of the donors.
The Prime Minister wants to replace the current “opt-in” system, in which organs are taken only after people have expressed their wish to be a donor, with an “opt-out” system, by which organs may be removed unless the donor has explicitly refused in advance.
The change is intended to reduce the numbers of patients who die while waiting for a suitable organ to become available for transplant.
The reforms would bring England into line with Wales, where the practice has been legal for nearly two years.
The proposals, however, have been sharply criticised in a briefing paper issued by the Anscombe Centre for Bioethics, an academic institute serving the Catholic Church in the UK and the Irish Republic.
It said that the plans undermined “the idea of organ retrieval as ‘donation’, that is, as an act of voluntary self-giving and not merely an act of taking by others or by the state”.
“We encourage as many people as possible to engage with the consultation process and express your views on these proposals, which would undermine the concept of donation, lessen respect for the human body, disregard the feelings of grieving relatives and threaten to alienate religious and other minority groups, without realistic prospect of increasing rates of transplantation,” the briefing paper said.
“There is no good evidence that moving from a system of donation to a system of presumed consent will increase the number of transplants that occur,” it said.
“Wales, where presumed consent legislation came into force a year and a half ago, has not seen the promised increase in life- saving operations.
“Indeed, there was a slight decrease in organ transplantation in Wales in contrast with the increase in transplantation in England in this period.”
Anscombe also pointed out that taking organs without adequate consent was denounced by Pope St John Paul II in 1991 when he told the Society for Organ Sharing that such activities “would amount to the dispossession or plundering of a body”.
It said that the Catechism of the Catholic Church was also clear that organ retrieval “is not morally acceptable if the donor or his proxy has not given explicit consent”.
Catholics should register their objections with the Department of Health before the public consultation period closes on March 6, the briefing paper said.
At present, organ donation in England is running at its highest rate, with 1,169 organ donors and 3,293 transplants in England between 2016 and 2018.
But according to the Government, there are 6,500 patients on transplant waiting lists and about three of them die every day.
Under the existing system, people wishing to donate organs register their intentions with NHS Blood and Transplant and carry an organ donor card.
A family member can also agree to the donation of organs if the person had not made their wishes known in advance.
There are particularly long waiting times for those in black and minority ethnic communities and consent rates for organ donation are also low in such communities, standing at around 35 per cent compared to 66 per cent in the white population.
In 2016, just over six per cent of deceased donors were from black and Asian communities, with people waiting on average six months longer for a kidney transplant than a white patient.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “Too many people still wait too long for an urgent transplant and we must urgently address this.
“Just as most people would be willing to accept an organ if their life was at risk, most people would be willing to donate one to help save somebody else,” he said.
“All these issues will be looked at in the consultation and we welcome all those with views to come forward with their contributions.”