Devolution

Devolution

The Guardian’s Sharon Brennan argued in her op-ed that Wales made a huge step forward in medicine last week, and that the rest of the United Kingdom should follow Wales’ lead in organ transplants. Last week, the National Assembly of Wales passed an opt-out organ donation legislation. This new rule would assume that all Welsh adults of sound mind agree to be organ donors, unless they have specifically said otherwise. The rest of the United Kingdom has an opt-in system, meaning citizens must register to be organ donors. According to recent polls, two-thirds of the Welsh population is willing to donate organs, but only 31 percent of Welsh citizens are officially registered as organ donors on paper. It’s estimated that Wales’ organ donation count will rise anywhere from 25 to 35 percent when the legislation is enforced in 2015. The opt-out system will increase the number of organ transplants and will save countless lives. This has been proven already with countries like Spain that already has an opt-out system in place; Spain performs more than double the number of organ transplants than England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland combined. The great thing about Wales’ new system is that the organs could be given to anyone in the United Kingdom. Currently, there are 10,500 people on the United Kingdom’s transplant request list. Three of those people will die today because they didn’t receive an organ match. Brennan hopes Wales’ move will encourage other assemblies to follow its lead like Scotland did with smoking in 2006. Scotland was the first country in the United Kingdom to ban smoking in enclosed public areas. It was deemed controversial at the time, but soon after England, Northern Ireland and Wales all followed suit and banned enclosed public smoking as well. Since 2006, the number of heart attacks and pediatric asthma diagnoses have decreased in the United Kingdom. If the rest of the United Kingdom chooses an opt-out organ donation system like Wales, transplant surgeries will rise and lives will be saved.

Brennan has cystic fibrosis, meaning she needs a lung transplant or she will most likely die before 40. Her column applauds Wales’ legislation, and encourages the rest of the United Kingdom to do the same and install an opt-out system. To those who protest the new system, she argues that it’s “not about the state owning someone’s body,” but about saving lives, while giving everyone the opportunity to opt-out if they don’t want their organs to go to another after death.

I’ve learned a lot about the United Kingdom’s politics while in POLI 2053. In 1997, Tony Blair and the New Labour Party ran on a platform which included devolution, meaning more power should be transferred from the United Kingdom Parliament to the individual countries. The party was elected, and soon after Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England were granted reserved powers to make decisions on regional matters. Constitutionally, the United Kingdom has all power, but with devolution, Parliament has the power to ironically give power away. Big issues like taxation and defense are still left to the United Kingdom Parliament; those issues are considered to be excepted powers. But, smaller, regional matters like agriculture and healthcare can be decided by each country’s assembly. Because of reserved powers and devolution, Wales has the legitimacy to enforce this opt-out system. The Welsh Assembly passed this legislation, and Brennan hopes the other assemblies in the United Kingdom will draft and pass similar bills.

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