A matter of life and death

EVERY silver lining, it seems, has a cloud. A recent decline in the number of deaths from road accidents in Scotland is, undoubtedly, very good news indeed.

But, as we reveal today, this has meant a consequential decline in the number of organs available to the thousands of people in need of lifesaving transplants.

The harvesting of organs from the dead to provide life for the living is an area fraught with issues of morality, taste and common humanity. When someone has been critically injured in a car crash, how reasonable is it to add to the family's anguish by asking them if doctors can operate on their loved one to remove their heart? And if a potential donor has previously signed an organ donation consent form, how reasonable is it to go ahead with that procedure if distressed relatives object?

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This newspaper has campaigned over a number of years for a system of presumed consent, where organs could be used unless someone has specifically asked to be excluded. This reform won the personal backing of the last prime minister, Gordon Brown, but an independent panel examining the issue stopped short of action. The decline in transplants - and resulting increase in deaths of those waiting for one - is reason enough to reopen this debate. There are few decisions a politician makes that can truly be said to be a matter of life and death. This is one of those decisions, and it cannot be shirked.