Following the yes vote in the 2011 referendum, the Welsh Assembly gained the power to make primary legislation in the narrow range of devolved areas permitted by London. So far, the Labour government in Cardiff has passed the following laws:
• National Assembly for Wales (Official Languages) Act
• Local Government Byelaws (Wales) Act
• School Standards and Organisation (Wales) Act
• Food Hygiene Rating (Wales) Act
• Public Audit (Wales) Act
• Local Government (Democracy) (Wales) Act
• Human Transplantation (Wales) Act
• Mobile Homes (Wales) Act
• Active Travel (Wales) Act
• Recovery of Medical Costs for Asbestos Diseases (Wales) Act
Most of these measures are uncontroversial, mildly progressive, minor tinkerings, trying to make a start on the Sisyphean task of sorting out the unholy mess Wales has been left in after over 450 years of English jurisprudence. In passing, note how the word ‘Wales’ has to be included in each Act. This is because Wales still does not have it’s own legal system, where the nation’s identity could be taken as read and not have to be constantly mentioned. Laws passed in Cardiff are just a branch of English law, so the W-word is necessary to ensure they don’t apply in England.
One piece of legislation, the Human Transplantation (Wales) Act, has generated a few ripples of controversy (and that counts as a major rumpus in a country with no media of its own). The Act, which comes into force in 2015, alters the rules for post-mortem organ donation so that consent is presumed rather than chosen voluntarily via the organ donor card. On the face of it this is sensible and compassionate. When you’re dead you’re dead; your internal organs are of no use to you anymore and are only going to decompose or be incinerated. Not enough people opt in, mainly because of lack of awareness or just apathy rather than any rejection of the principle of organ donation, and 35 people in Wales waiting for a transplant died last year alone.
What opposition there was came from religious groups, who reckon the human corpse is made of angel breath and pixie dust and to tamper with it would be to do the work of Beelzebub; far-right ideologues, who will always object whenever individual ‘rights’ play second fiddle to collective purposes; and die-hard British Nationalists, with their Pavlovian knee-jerk reaction against any manifestation of devolution being put into practice and Wales slightly differing from England.
But just because that lot were against the change to presumed consent doesn’t mean the legislation is beyond criticism. Firstly, as opting in is now automatic, eventually nobody will do it anymore. Effectively, the rather beautiful and public-spirited act of carrying a donor card is being abolished: a sad consequence that delivers another telling blow to the fuddy-duddy notion of possessing a social conscience.
Secondly, the Act will inevitably require the development of a giant, complex database, creating another layer of Big Brother bureaucracy and diverting scarce resources from front-line services. There are 3 million people in Wales. When one of us gets run over by the proverbial double-decker bus and lies dead on a trolley in an A&E corridor, somebody in the hospital is going to have to access specific records to confirm whether that person has lived in Wales for at least a year and whether that person has opted out of organ donation. Consent can be presumed, but it cannot be assumed without a battery of double-checks for fear of expensive law suits. This has to be done more or less instantly, since organs must be removed pronto and kept in controlled environments if they are to be of any use. The organ donor database was short and simple, and if the deceased’s name was not on it only the next-of-kin’s signature was needed before the surgeon could get cracking with the scalpels and the forceps. A whole new sub-department of the Welsh NHS will have to develop to slickly administer and regulate the process and, going by the statements of Health Minister Mark Drakeford, it is by no means certain this outcome has even been considered.
Thirdly, and most importantly: as with all the workings of Welsh Labour, things are never quite what they seem at first glance. Mark Drakeford is vague about how many, if any, lives will be saved by presumed consent. He cannot be otherwise, since shortages are built into the very structure of a free service where supply can never match demand, and since both future rates of organ failure and future rates of unexpected death are totally unpredictable. In other countries where presumed consent has been introduced organ failure mortality rates have not altered significantly – some have even gone up – so the suspicion arises that this is not a law that has been tested with scientific or mathematical rigour but is just more gesture politics from Labour, a gimmick designed to contrast their big-heartedness with those callous ConDems in Westminster. That suspicion is confirmed by the Act’s small print.
Guess what? Even though Welsh Assembly time, Welsh resources, Welsh administration and Welsh people’s actual body parts are going into this pricey project, not one of the organs it might gather need ever be re-used in Wales! It must have completely slipped Mr Drakeford’s mind, but he forgot to mention that, because there is no such thing really as ‘the Welsh NHS’ (that’s just a sleight of hand to deceive the brainwashed into believing we have a semblance of sovereignty), all the organs will go into the general UK pool and be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis as required. And because Wales is just 4% of the UK this means that, on average, only 1 in every 25 organs thus harvested in Wales will be inserted into a Welsh person. This in turn means, since it’s anticipated only a couple of extra organs per year will emerge from the measure, it will take over a decade to save a single Welsh life.
So, to sum up: they stole our land, our language, our iron, our coal, our gold, our water…and now they’re coming for our kidneys! I can see the signs now: ‘Croeso i Gymru – the Organ Farm’ and ‘Dim Gyrrwch yn ofalus – roadkill needed’…