Cash for corpses

Charles 6 Comments

You can tell how developed a society is by the price it puts on life. Could, rather. In the most developed societies there’s a re-evaluation going on. The Office of National Statistics calculates that death is now preceded by the unendurable prospect of an average 10 years’ chronic illness or dementia. It scares the hell out of us. No one wants to go there.

So there’s a national conversation about assisted suicide and self-deliverance. We read about Debbie Purdy and lovely Omar and we say, “If that was me… Yes, of course she should be allowed to. It’s what I want for me, too.”

What price life, now?

What price keeping all our old people alive, too? Can we afford it? Can we not incentivise them in some way to sign up to an accelerated end-of-life care plan? Yes, we’ve got ADRTs, a thin end of the wedge, but something faster? Because if we don’t, there’s going to be a heck of a doubly-incontinent lot of them when the baby boomers start their final, slow descent. And I don’t know who’s going to look after them. And I don’t know where the money’s going to come from. No one does.

So we’ve identified a brand new human right: the right to die. There’s been remarkably little fanfare about that.

But with rights come responsibilities. Have not the old a duty to vacate the stage, leave the building?

We’re getting our heads around it, this de-sanctification of human life. We’ll get our heads around the eu-word. We’ll have to. We have our abortions, after all.

So it’s interesting to see the Nuffield Council on Bioethics talking today about ways to incentivise organ donation. In the words of Management in Practice:

Under the Nuffield Council on Bioethics’ plans, organ donors would be put on a transplant priority list and their families would be helped with funeral expenses.

The priority list proposal would see donors at the front of the queue for kidney, heart and other organ transplants, while contributions would be made to the funeral expenses of dead donors’ relatives.

Financial incentives, “presumed consent” systems, personal “thank you” letters and certificates and souvenirs such as T-shirts and mugs could also be considered. The financial incentives may range from payments to the regulated selling of organs, eggs or sperm and a fully-fledged free market or just modest expenses.

Today’s Guardian quotes Dame Marilyn Strathern, professor of social anthropology at Cambridge University, who is leading the consultation working party: “We could try to increase the number of donors by providing stronger incentives, such as cash, paying funeral costs or priority for an organ in the future, but would this be ethical?”

Ethical? Cash for corpses? Leave it out, Dame Marilyn. You are the future.

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12 years ago

Have a look at John Humphrys' 'The Welcome Visitor', which makes the point that it seems absurd to artificially prolong life as we do, only to have to wring our hands about artificially shortening it. We may have an inalienable right to a human body, once we've got one. But that brings with it a duty to use it wisely, recognize it as a gift, and relinquish it once it's finished with (which implies its having a purpose). Anything you have to give back doesn't actually belong to you, and there are limits to the liberties we can take with… Read more »

12 years ago

Now I've re-read it, I'm beginning to suspect Nuffield Council's words were NOT written on April 1st.

What would they write on these touching memorials?
"Don't be a mug, be a donor"?
"My husband went to heaven, and all I got was this lousy T-shirt"?
"Liver bit longer in someone else's body"?

I carry an organ donation note. It reads, "please don't, in or out." If I were ever in any doubt about it, I'm not now.

Charles Cowling
Charles Cowling
12 years ago

Interesting to track the comments in the Guardian here:
12 years ago

Considering the huge numbers and costs, what will happen in reality is that the current levels of life-prolonging effort will have to be reduced and people will die earlier and more naturally, as they did in the past. The 10 year chronic illness average is based on present levels of health care – when these decline, as they will be forced to, so will this ridiculously drawn-out "decomposing while still living" manner of dying. That will not be a bad thing, IMHO. Insisting on longer survival of the body at all costs, whatever may have happened to the mind, emotions… Read more »

syncopated eyeball
syncopated eyeball
12 years ago

I do not believe in life at any 'cost'. I believe in our having a good quality of life. i wish that more research were done on how to make people's lives richer rather than simply longer. I believe in the right to bow out from life gracefully should we so choose.


[…] An interesting thing about this report is that no one has picked up that it is not the first time the Nuffield Council has flown this kite. It first flew it in April 2010. […]