Almost 2,000 Germans are said to have died last year while waiting for organ transplants. To remedy the issue, health minister Jens Spahn has put forward a draft law that might make the majority of German citizens organ donors by default. Organ donation in the country has fallen from 1,046 in 2011 to 797 by around 2017.
Changing the law
At present, a German citizen has to declare their willingness to be an organ donor. Only then can their organs be transplanted into another person. The donors usually carry a donor card or make such provisions in their will. The proposed law completely overturns current policies by considering everyone a donor unless they “opt out.” Those who do not wish to have their organs harvested after death will have to add their name to a register that objects to such a procedure.
The family of a deceased person can also prevent their loved one’s organs from being harvested after consulting a doctor. According to proposed laws, people will be informed about the new system multiple times and will be given options to opt out. Spahn uses this provision to argue that the new law will not make organ donation compulsory. He also points out that almost 20 EU nations have a similar system. Karl Lauterbach, the Social Democratic Party’s (SPD) health policy expert, has extended support for the law. “We still have about 10 times more people on the waiting list for an organ than the number that are transplanted per year,” he said in a statement (The Local).
The proposed law has been met with strong opposition by the leftist party Greens and the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU). Lawmakers from both sides have drawn up an alternative draft that will retain the current organ donation system. To boost organ donations, the draft suggests that people be contacted more regularly and encouraged to sign up as donors. The lawmakers argued that this would ensure that organ donation remains a “voluntary decision that cannot be forced by the state.”
While Spahn’s proposal to make everyone an organ donor by default may have good intentions, one needs to realize that such “good” laws can eventually turn out to be a nightmare. Government control over one’s body is a bad idea. China is a perfect example of such a mess. The country’s authoritarian government is known to have engaged in forced harvesting of organs from Falun Gong practitioners, as well as Tibetans, House Church Christians, and Uyghurs. In addition, China’s organ transplant industry is thriving with illegally acquired organs thanks to the lax laws of the country. The waiting time for organ transplants is said to be a few days to two months, something that is impossible in most democratic countries.
If Spahn’s laws were to be passed, what stops the government from forcefully extracting organs from a dead body even though the person may have been against it? After all, the state can still position it as a moral act by saying that it would save the life of a living person. Germans have suffered due to excessive state interference in the past when Soviet-controlled East Germany was a harsh reality. Whether or not to give the state such control over a person’s body is definitely something to think about.
The proposal has been criticized by religious believers as state interference in their faith. Stephan Pilsinger from the Christian Social Union (CSU) has termed the proposed law “ethically questionable.” He added that the law would essentially make every German person a “spare parts warehouse.”
Almost 57 percent of the German population is Christian. While most Christians consider organ donation to be an altruistic act, there are a significant number of believers who see it as an act that defiles one’s God-given body. To overlook the concerns of Christians and pass a law that can make them organ donors definitely does not measure up to the secular credentials of a government.
Another major religion in Germany is Islam, at 5 percent of the population. The issue of organ donation is still a divisive one in the community, with some Islamic scholars supporting it and others vehemently opposing it. Jewish believers, who make up 0.1 percent of the German population, also share similar views as Christians and Muslims.