Thursday, January 17, 2008

Dr Evan Harris MP, organ donation and presumed consent

Rod Liddle in the Spectator is in particularly fine form this week, denouncing the idea of ‘presumed consent’ for organ donations.

He remarks that the BMA and GMC that are often criticised because they:

fail to treat patients as human beings… they are viewed instead as an array of disembodied, problematic health issues; a dodgy ticker here, clogged-up lungs there and so on

My own view is that the correct liberal approach to expert opinion, whether from the medical or other professions should be one of respect for specific knowledge and expertise, but not one of uncritical deference. Even those whose job is to heal the sick will occasionally be guilty of special pleading or pursuing their own professional interests above the good of society or its citizens. Democracy is all about lay people holding experts to account on behalf of the people.

Sadly, it comes as no surprise to see that our own Lib Dem representative of the medical profession, Dr Evan Harris MP is a great enthusiast for ‘presumed consent’ and states on his website that this is Liberal Democrat policy. I confess I hadn’t realised it was party policy, and it’s depressing if unsurprising to find this out. No doubt it was snuck through in the small print of a particularly dull policy paper, or approved in a policy motion in a graveyard slot (no pun intended) at conference.

Although Evan Harris is in many ways a good egg, and there are lots of things I agree with him about, I can’t help feeling that he is only secondarily a Liberal Democrat MP, and first and foremost a Parliamentary spokesman for the BMA.

I find it depressing, too, that my own liberal views seem better represented by a wacky columnist in a right-of-centre weekly than by my party’s spokesman on science.

PS: It is possible to show scientific rigour on medical issues without becoming a mere mouthpiece for professional opinion. Ben Goldacre’s
Bad Science blog is a good example of the genre.


Tristan said...

It is depressing...
I think its a sign of that peculiar disjunction which affects liberalism today.
The right hold some liberal views, but then move away from them when it comes to things like nationalism, supporting corporations over the individual or religion and sex.

The left kept the other half of liberal views, social freedom, internationalism etc.

That leaves liberals in an odd position that they have to work with the left and right selectively.

(of course, left/right are very fuzzily defined, but you get the general gist)

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