Charity and Compassion: Against an Opt-out Donation System (Speech)

In light of Scotland’s move towards an ‘opt-out’ system of organ donation, here is the transcript of a speech given by Jake Scott during a debate hosted by the University of Birmingham Conservative society earlier this year.

Mr Speaker, ladies and gentlemen of the floor, thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to you today, especially since the topic of organ donation is close to my heart.

Even more so, as the chosen charity of today’s Port & Policy event is Kidney Research UK.

As someone who was unfortunate enough to be born with one kidney, I rely very much on the kindness of strangers should my lone kidney ever fail for no less than my life.

But I do not think it is my misfortune that should be someone else’s burden; I’d like to quote, much to the support of the House I’m sure, a speech by Mrs. Thatcher:

“Charity is a personal quality—the supreme moral quality—according to St Paul, and public compassion, state philanthropy and institutionalised charity can never be enough. There is no adequate substitute for genuine caring for one another on the part of families, friends and neighbours.”

And it is this virtue of charity that I think marks the significance of organ donation. What is yours, is yours to give – it is not someone else’s to take.

Would we consider donation to possess the moral virtue it rightly does were it not a choice?

The parable of the Good Samaritan shows us this virtue plain and clearly: when the Samaritan found the dying Roman on the road, it was his good moral conscience that made him cross over the road and help.

But this parable would mean nothing were there a Roman soldier forcing our Samaritan to cross over – he would not be Good, he would simply be a citizen.

So, it is the ability to choose to help our fellow man that takes us away from mere obligation and endows our decisions with the “supreme moral quality”.

When someone becomes an organ donor, it his compassion that drives him to do so – and by that simple fact alone, it becomes so much more beautiful and respectful a decision.

We laud these donors, and think more of them for doing so – and of those who make the reasonable decision, based on whatever principles, to not donate their organs, we think nothing.

But were this the other way around, and the decision to be made was to opt-out, we would think nothing of those who stay in, and think less of those who opt-out, calling them selfish.

And in doing so, we lose the beauty and compassion of donation, and gain the cruelty and coercion of self-interest.

There can be nothing more detrimental to the fabric of British society. Thank you.

Jake Scott is editor of the Mallard and a Master’s student of Political Theory at the University of Birmingham.

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