The Archbishop's comments and concerns about the issue of presumed consent for organ donation have come under predictable fire from some quarters as being 'unchristian.' That's always the stage in any argument when I tend to smell a rat and suspect the critics are being tempted to hit below the belt in order to circumnavigate the real issues at stake. Our present culture is very good at doing that, and very bad indeed at examining the consequences of decisions taken for what appears - on a utilitarian level - to be for the best possible reasons.
But to return to the argument of presumed consent - to whom do our bodies and vital organs belong?
It's strange that for the real post-modernist liberal, for the purpose of some arguments, such as 'a woman's right to choose' or issues of sexual orientation, our bodies are deemed to be our own and what happens to them solely a matter of individual choice, yet in others, where there is deemed to be an overriding 'humanitarian' concern, the matter is somewhat more, shall we say, up for debate. Freedom as we know is never an absolute, it is always a matter of the balancing of competing rights and responsibilities, but one can't help feeling that there are some advocates for change in our society who are attempting to stretch the elasticity of our philosophical, moral and ethical language to snapping point.
Well, for the Christian, our bodies, like life itself, are a gift from God and not solely ours to do with as we please. The decision whether or not to donate cannot be taken as a result of simply feeling or gut instinct but as a matter of charity (caritas, Christian love, that is) and always taken in accordance with wider moral and ethical implications and, as the Archbishop of Wales says, as a conscious, planned, free gift to help bring life to others.
But, even if we keep the argument on a purely secular level - the only level our society appears to understand - one thing is very clear, our bodies do not belong to the State. If I choose to donate my organs after death (and personally I can do nothing other than commend that course - my wife's father having had a successful heart transplant ten years ago) then it should be, in the eyes of the state at least, my decision taken in accordance with whatever tradition of faith, prayer and belief, or whatever philosophical system is the foundation of my life.
The representative, 'democratic' state can seek to persuade but not to presume, to respect our decisions not to coerce. If organ donation is thought to be too low, then make a better case for it.
Presumption of consent may well lead us - yet again - to places where, on deeper reflection, we may not wish to go.
"......We are witnessing a growing indifference to religion in society, which considers the issue of truth as something of an obstacle in its decision-making, and instead gives priority to utilitarian considerations.
All the same, a binding basis for our coexistence is needed; otherwise people live in a purely individualistic way. Religion is one of these foundations for a successful social life. “Just as religion has need of freedom, so also freedom has need of religion.” These words of the great bishop and social reformer Wilhelm von Ketteler, the second centenary of whose birth is being celebrated this year, remain timely.
Freedom requires a primordial link to a higher instance. The fact that there are values which are not absolutely open to manipulation is the true guarantee of our freedom. The man who feels a duty to truth and goodness will immediately agree with this: freedom develops only in responsibility to a greater good. Such a good exists only for all of us together; therefore I must always be concerned for my neighbours.
Freedom cannot be lived in the absence of relationships. In human coexistence, freedom is impossible without solidarity. What I do at the expense of others is not freedom but a culpable way of acting which is harmful to others and also to myself. I can truly develop as a free person only by using my powers also for the welfare of others. This holds true not only in private matters but also for society as a whole...."
Pope Benedict, speaking in Berlin yesterday