The BMA has had a major success this week. In 'that speech', prime minister Theresa May announced that the Government will shift from an opt-in to an opt-out system for organ donation in England.
This is something that is very close to my heart. I am a passionate supporter of organ donation but I have also been leading the BMA's campaign for a 'soft' opt-out system for the last 18 years. This is a tale of how a bit of passion, a lot of perseverance and combining the huge amount of talent we have across the BMA can really make a difference, not just in terms of implementing BMA policy but in terms of saving lives.
When we first started campaigning for an opt-out system, we had few supporters. I faced many hostile crowds as I presented our case at debates, conferences and meetings. But having the backing of over 100,000 doctors is very powerful and over time people started to listen.
We began to see serious debate amongst policy makers and the public. In 2007 the then chief medical officer for England, Sir Liam Donaldson, came out in support of opt-out and a year later the prime minister, Gordon Brown, also publicly expressed his personal support.
The first really major win though was in Wales, where the Government, spurred on by campaigning led by BMA Wales, decided to lead the way and introduce an opt-out system – which came into effect in 2015.
This was a major breakthrough: many people were concerned there might be a backlash and here was a 'test case'; if this proved successful surely others would follow suit. And they have. In June this year, again following a significant and sustained campaign by the team in BMA Scotland, the Scottish Government announced that it would introduce legislation, and now – this week - we have England committed to also making the shift.
What was originally seen as a radical idea has now been accepted as an obvious response to a serious problem.
Over the last 18 years, colleagues across the BMA (both staff and members) have worked together with amazing enthusiasm and passion to promote this policy. Between us we have spoken at conferences and in debates, written major reports, briefed parliamentarians across the UK, written articles for publication, made the BMA a go-to organisation for the media when organ donation is discussed, carried out surveys, hosted round tables, met with key staff from Governments, and lobbied civil servants.
We have also had some fun. We have sent Valentines cards to MPs urging them to ‘have a heart’, and created a cheap but highly effective campaign that spread the message everywhere from screen savers to shop windows, from franking stamps to football programmes.
A few months after this, I saw a newspaper report of a mother whose son – who had recently died – had told her he wanted to donate his organs after seeing our campaign. This is what it is all about: saving lives.
I consider myself to be hugely privileged to have worked on this campaign. I am immensely proud of what we have achieved and everyone that has contributed to this, in any way, whether in the front line or in a supportive role should be too. In my view, this is the BMA at its very best. Now we just need to keep up the fight…. in Northern Ireland, who despite the best efforts of our team in BMA NI, still need a bit of persuading.
Veronica English is head of ethics and human rights at the BMA
Read more about the BMA's work on organ donation opt-out
You never asked us members what we thought. Not once.
The BMA membership comprises of many age, gender, social class, cultural, religious and racial groups of doctors. In some religions, every dead person must keep all organs so that they can get up on dooms day to seek mercy from God and if they go to heaven they would need all organs. Some religions believe to be born again as a new human or animal form and they need their all organs intact. Some people's organs may not be compatible for race basis. Many doctors and patients are liberal, secular, agnostic and atheists. Human Rights Act 1998 grants every citizen of the UK and EU a right to have freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Even coming out of the EU, Brexit British would need to live in peace, if so, there will be laws to replace the Human Rights Act. Opt -in is better than Opt-out; if not there would be inner and open wars to bring peace. Finally, please remember that Politics, Economics and Law are as important for patient care and saving lives as Medicine. I do not have authority but I can suggest that "Opt-out" should be for all non religious people and "Opt-in" for all Religious people, for organ donation. Why asking for small or big wars when we can live in peace as today. Beware, religions always have been at wars to bring peace; it is wise not to ask for more wars. I hope we could keep the peace as we now enjoy. Dr Bashir Qureshi FRCGP, FRCPCH, AFOM-RCP, Hon FFSRH-RCOG, Hon FRSPH, Hon MAPHA-USA. Life member of the BMA. Author of Transcultural Medicine; dealing with patients from different cultures, religions and ethnicities. (My this book was a mandatory reading for British Army doctors in Iraq and Afghanistan wars). Expert Witness in Cultural, Religious & Ethnic Issues in Litigation for British Courts.
As an atheist, my organs are no less precious and intimate to me than they are to theists, and I am not available for spare parts.
It was a certain THAT person Sat opposite the prime minister.. You failed to mention.. That was the trigger for this. And he should be mentioned in your article. Weldone Mr Corbyn.
Another reason not to vote for him then. For those who view a body as one's personal property, not communal goods