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Is colonialism good?

Is colonialism good?

There is a rule in journalism which says that the answer to any headline that asks a question is usually “no”. So before I ask you to get deeper into this blog post let me set the record straight now: colonialism is bad and British colonialism was bad.

If that is so clear, why is this blog post necessary?

It is necessary because an unfinished speech I gave to the General Synod yesterday [Thursday 10 February 2022] is being misconstrued as me saying that colonialism has its good bits.

That is not what I was saying – but I did quote a former Bishop of Kuching in north west Borneo, the Rt Revd Bolly Lapok, as saying that. He told me that the English should stop apologising for colonialism. He said that it wasn’t all bad and that if it wasn't for colonialism, his people would still be head hunters.

Now his words are being condemned too. I do find it odd that people in England will say colonialism is bad on the one hand; and then say that a Malaysian bishop can only express an opinion if it is one that is approved by that same English person. That is colonialism. Bishop Bolly was entitled to his view.

I told the story because I was responding to criticisms of the Anglican Communion in a debate about whether Anglicans outside England should have a greater say in the choice of future Archbishops of Canterbury.

There are good arguments on both sides. But there are also bad ones – such as the one that says asking Anglicans outside England to contribute to the selection of Archbishops of Canterbury is harking back to colonialism.

Colonialism is not a good thing. But it happened, and because it happened England has a different form of influence and soft power in the world than if it hadn’t happened. What can be good is how that influence and soft power is used.

In, I think, 1984, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Revd Robert Runcie, asked the then-Bishop of Lichfield, the Right Revd Keith Sutton (who years later would become my boss) to visit South Africa to stand alongside Archbishop Desmond Tutu – the Arch – at some high profile funerals. It was widely thought that the South African authorities would attack the funerals and assassinate Archbishop Tutu.

The world’s media turned up – not because a foreign bishop was present; not because the Bishop of Lichfield was present; but because the Archbishop of Canterbury’s representative was present – and it was standing next to Keith Sutton that made the Arch safe – “I may be small, but when I stand next to Keith Sutton I am tall, because when I stand with him I stand with the entire Anglican Communion at my side”, Desmond Tutu said.

This was possible because of the soft power and influence that Archbishops of Canterbury have. The Anglican Communion is a family of 42 independent-yet-interdependent autonomous churches. The Archbishop of Canterbury is leader of just one – the Church of England. But his role as primus inter pares – first amongst equals – of the Anglican Primates is because of England’s colonial past and its effect on the spread of Anglicanism around the world.

Colonialism is not a good thing. But it happened. As a result of that history, the Archbishop of Canterbury has a figure-head role as a focus for unity within the wider Anglican Communion.

Inviting greater involvement of that wider Anglican Communion in the selection of future Archbishops of Canterbury is not harking back to colonialism. It is recognising that, because of the colonial past and the status that gives the Archbishop of Canterbury, it is right that voices outside England should have a greater say over who the person who occupies the seat of Saint Augustine is.

That isn’t colonialism. It is quite the reverse. And that is the point that I was trying to – perhaps clumsily – say in my hastily half-written speech which was half-delivered online while dosed up on drugs fighting Covid.

Southwell and Nottingham General Synod member calls for safeguarding changes

A member of the Church of England’s General Synod who campaigns against gender-based violence is calling for changes to the way the Church of England tackles safeguarding. Gavin Drake has tabled two Private Members Motions (PMMs) which may be selected for debate by the Synod if they attract the signatures of 100 other General Synod members.

In the January 2022 edition of his monthly General Synod Update newsletter, Gavin Drake says that expenditure by the Church of England’s National Safeguarding Team (NST) has risen from under £1.1 m in 2016 to more than £2.3 m in 2020. During the same period, the number of full time equivalent staff in the NST has risen from 6.2 to 17.2. The information, he said, was provided to Synod members in response to a question from the Revd Canon Dr Tim Bull from the diocese of St Albans.

At the last meeting of the General Synod, in Novembner, Gavin Drake, who in addition to being one of four lay members of the General Synod from Southwell and Nottingham is also the Director of The Jill Saward Organisation, thanked the Chair of the Archbishops’ Council’s finance committee, Canon John Spence, for the increase in spending on safeguarding, but asked what “safeguards” were in place to ensure that the money was being spent “wisely and effectively”.

“The National Safeguarding Team’s slogan is ‘promoting a safe church’”, he said. “I think our national effort should not be ‘promoting a safe church’ but ‘mandating a safe church’”.

In response, Canon Spence said: “with regards to safeguarding, I think we have been responding to events over the past five years and we have increased the budget radically. There needs to come a point where we stand back and have an independent look at its effectiveness and I would suggest that that moment may be coming.”

The first of Gavin Drake’s PMMs calls for a Measure – statute law – to give a new or existing national body “the authority to investigate, intervene, and if necessary to direct a particular course of action in cases where bishops or dioceses are not managing safeguarding cases appropriately, effectively, safely, or in line with the House of Bishops’ safeguarding guidance.” At the last count, on 8 December, it had 30 signatures.

The second PMM concerns the second national review of past cases (PCR2) which is currently being undertaken by dioceses throughout the Church of England. It calls for the publication of anonymised data showing how many cases flagged by the independent reviewers as showing cause for concern had previously been looked at by the Church of England and given the all-clear. On 8 December it had attracted 18 signatures.

“The primary responsibility for ensuring that the C of E’s safeguarding is effective lies with the Church,” Gavin Drake said. “PCR2 gives us the opportunity to review whether our safeguarding checks and balances are effective.”

The General Synod will next meet in Westminster from Tuesday 8 to Thursday 10 February 2022. An indicative timetable given to Synod members says that safeguarding will be discussed on the morning of Wednesday 9 February.

Press Release: General Synod member calls for Archiepiscopal Visitation to investigate safeguarding in Southwell and Nottingham

Call comes after High Court Judge asks the Archbishop of York to spell out “without delay” safeguarding lessons that the bishop of Southwell and Nottingham needs to learn.

A recently elected member of the General Synod’s House of Laity, Gavin Drake, has called on the Archbishop of York, the Most Revd Stephen Cottrell, to hold an Archiepiscopal Visitation to investigate safeguarding in the Diocese of Southwell and Nottingham. The call came after a High Court Judge, who serves as the Deputy President of Clergy Discipline Tribunals, urged the Archbishop to spell out “without delay” any lessons the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham, the Right Revd Paul Williams, needs to learn on safeguarding issues.

His Honour Judge David Turner QC made the request in a written decision notice in which the judge upheld the Archbishop’s decision to take no further action against Bishop Paul Williams, following a complaint brought by Gavin Drake, a campaigner against gender-based violence who runs The Jill Saward Organisation.

But despite upholding the Archbishop’s decision, the judge was critical of Bishop Paul Williams in various stages of the decision notice, and he concluded it by saying: “I respectfully express the hope that any lessons the Bishop (or indeed others) need to learn may be spelt out by the Archbishop without delay, given the obvious importance of the concern underlying the complaint.”

In a letter today to Archbishop Stephen, Gavin Drake wrote: “While Judge Turner invites you to do this ‘without delay’, I would ask you to consider an Archiepiscopal Visitation by independent external safeguarding professionals into safeguarding practices within the Diocese of Southwell and Nottingham. Since publishing the churchabuse.uk website on 10 October, I have been contacted by numerous people with shocking stories to tell about the way Bishop Paul Williams has responded to other safeguarding cases.

“If the Church really is serious about striving to be a safe place, it needs to fully investigate allegations of wrongdoing. You have blocked two investigations into complaints that I have brought under the CDM about Bishop Paul’s safeguarding practices. I urge you now to convene your own investigation – outside the CDM – to fully understand the seriousness of the situation in this diocese.

“Alternatively, if you do not intend to undertake a visitation, then I urge you to comply with Judge Turner’s invitation to spell out the lessons you say Bishop Paul Williams needs to learn, as the judge requested, ‘without delay’”.

Explaining his reason for requesting the Archiepiscopal Visitation, Gavin Drake said: “safeguarding in the Diocese of Southwell and Nottingham is a shambles. The diocesan Bishop, Paul Williams, has admitted that he was not aware of significant new legislation, which was described by the Church of England as ‘an important development in strengthening safeguarding in the Church’ – and this when he was on the legislative body – the General Synod – that made new law.

“The Deputy President of Tribunals has urged the Archbishop of York to spell out “without delay” the lessons that Bishop Paul Williams needs to learn. I am going further and asking the Archbishop to conduct an official Archiepiscopal Visitation into safeguarding within the Diocese of Southwell and Nottingham by competent, professional, external safeguarding experts.”

In October, Gavin Drake launched a website – churchabuse.uk – on which he has published a considerable amount of paperwork connected to the complaints against the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham.

“As a result of the churchabuse.uk website, I have received a considerable amount of disturbing information about Bishop Paul’s handling of other safeguarding matters. It is clear to me that he and his diocese are out of their depth when it comes to maintain a safe church and acting appropriately.

“A full independent investigation looking into all aspects of safeguarding in this diocese is the only appropriate course of action.” Gavin Drake has tabled two Private Members Motions at the General Synod, calling for new legislation enabling scrutiny of diocesan safeguarding and also for additional information to be published as part of a national safeguarding audit.

I’m getting married in the morning (I think)!

I'm getting married in the morning!
(well, in the afternoon, actually, on 19 September)

Ding dong! The bells are gonna chime
(no way - bell ringers count as part of our 30)

Pull out the stopper!
(but check first that wine is still permissible in a Covid-secure wedding)

Let's have a whopper!
(we can go individually to Burger King with members of the public but might not be able to have a socially distanced family meal in a spacious venue)

But get me to the church on time!
(before they change the regulations and ban weddings completely again)

I gotta be there in the mornin'
(make sure I’m there before a local lockdown is announced)

Spruced up and lookin' in me prime.
(“prime”? I’m 50!)

Girls, come and kiss me;
(don’t you dare - keep two metres apart or “one metre plus”)

Show how you'll miss me.
(I assume you’re already missing me as you’ve not seen me since March)

But get me to the church on time!

If I am dancin'
(no - not allowed)

Roll up the floor.
(can’t get that drunk AND maintain social distancing)

If I am whistlin'
(no singing, and definitely no whistling!)

Whewt me out the door
(not sure whether whewting is allowed either - no mention of it in the regulations)

For I'm gettin' married in the mornin'
(if it is in anyway possible!)

  • With apologies to Alan Jay Lerner / Frederick Loewe and Warner Chappell Music, Inc

Why the Cliff Richard privacy judgment is not a threat to the freedom of the press

[caption id="attachment_1929" align="alignright" width="400"] Cliff Richard performing at the State Theatre in Sydney, Australia, in February 2013.
© Eva Rinaldi / Wikimedia[/caption]

Let me start with an important proviso: I have not read the judgment in the Cliff Richard privacy case. I will do later and may provide a more detailed response later. That said, I am not in one bit surprised to hear that he has won his claim against the BBC.

My late wife, Jill Saward, campaigned heavily against moves by some to provide anonymity for those accused in cases of sexual violence. This was a campaign that I supported. So you may think that I would be opposed to this judgment. Not one bit. Jill herself made clear that the coverage of the Cliff Richard case was wrong.

The reason is this: Cliff Richard had not been accused of sexual violence – not by the police or prosecution authorities. Nor had he been arrested. The BBC news reports of the police investigation – including live helicopter shots of his home as a search warrant was executed – was the first Cliff Richard knew of the investigation.

This makes a mockery of an oft-quoted part of the BBC’s defence: that they reported the singer’s denial at every stage. He couldn’t deny it at the first stage, because he didn’t know about it until a friend telephoned him at his home in Portugal to let him know what the BBC was reporting.

It has always been the case in English law that the police need less evidence to arrest somebody than the media need to report that arrest. Of course, that doesn’t mean that arrests can’t be reported; but in doing so journalists and media need to be aware of the risk, as McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists says (22nd edition, page 44), that “publishing a statement that someone is under investigation, even when this is factually correct, may be defamatory because it creates an inference that he/she is guilty.”

McNae’s goes on to say that: “In reality, when reporting high profile investigations, especially if a celebrity or public figure is a suspect, media organisations may choose – within the fierce competition to break news – to publish the suspect’s name before it is known if he/she will be charged. . . News organisations might decide that the person is unlikely to sue for libel because, for example, a celebrity or politician may not wish to alienate the media or stir up more publicity.”

The Police mishandled every aspect of their investigation into the allegations against Cliff Richard – even refusing to speak with a credible witness who was with Cliff Richard throughout the day that the “offence” was said to have been committed.

Every allegation of sexual violence needs to be investigated. And they should be investigated thoroughly. Victims and survivors deserve justice. But justice means that investigations should be allowed to proceed without prurient media interest.

The head of news at the BBC, Fran Unsworth, has said that the judgment “creates a significant shift against press freedom.”

No. It doesn’t.

The judgment reinforces the law as it has always stood. The fact that news organisations in recent years haven’t been operating within the law as it stands, does not mean that the law has been changed. It was just that, as McNae’s said – media organisations took the view that people were unlikely to sue.

There will inevitably be renewed calls for anonymity for people accused of sexual violence until they are convicted. This case should have no bearing on such cases. This is a case where the BBC wanted an exclusive sensationalist report. It was not a case where the police wanted, or needed, publicity to support an investigation; nor was it the case that the investigation had progressed to the point that the police felt that Cliff Richard should have been arrested.

From ACNS: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle ask Presiding Bishop Michael Curry to preach at wedding

This afternoon I wrote an article for the Anglican Communion News Service. It is so popular that it has crashed the server! So I am republishing it here.

[caption id="attachment_1920" align="alignright" width="460"] Meghan Markle and Prince Harry
Photo: Mark Jones / Flickr[/caption]

The Presiding Bishop of the US-based Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, will preach at next weekend’s wedding of Prince Henry of Wales – more informally referred to as Prince Harry – and the US actress Meghan Markle, Kensington Palace announced today (Saturday). Prince Harry, the grandson of Queen Elizabeth and sixth in line to the throne, will marry Ms Markle at St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle next Saturday (19 May) in a service conducted by the Dean of Windsor, David Conner. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, will officiate.

The invitation from the couple to Presiding Bishop Michael Curry to preach at the service is a departure from tradition for British royal weddings. While previous royal weddings have involved clergy from other Christian churches saying prayers for the couple; sermons are usually given by senior C of E clergy. The service will be televised around the world, and it is likely that the Presiding Bishop, who refers to himself as the CEO of the Episcopal Church – the Chief Evangelism Officer – won’t resist the opportunity to talk about what he calls the Jesus Movement.

“The love that has brought and will bind Prince Harry and Ms Meghan Markle together has its source and origin in God, and is the key to life and happiness,” Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said. “And so we celebrate and pray for them today.”

Prince Harry was born on 15 September 1984 and was baptised at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, three-months later. After completing his formal education, he spent a gap year in Australia and South Africa before training for military service. He served with the British Army in Afghanistan as an officer in the Royal Horse Guards and 1st Dragoons of the Household Cavalry, in the US-led operation to remove the Taliban from power following the September 11 terror attacks in New York and Washington. His service in Afghanistan came to an end after his presence there was revealed by an Australian magazine; but he returned there a few years later in a deployment with the Army Air Corps. In 2014, he launched the Invictus Games for injured ex-service personnel; and is patron of a number of organisations, including the HALO Trust, which is working to remove mines from Qasr el Yahud – the site on the west Bank of the River Jordan at the traditional site of the baptism of Jesus.

Meghan Markle was born on 4 August 4 1981 in Los Angeles, California. Her parents, Doria Ragland and Thomas Markle, divorced when she was six-years-old. In her acting career, she has appeared in a number of roles, including in the films Get Him to the Greek, Remember Me, and Horrible Bosses. But she is best known her portrayal of the character Rachel Zane in the hit US-legal drama series Suits. Her character, a paralegal who trained to become an attorney, was the love interest of phoney-lawyer Mike Ross. Ms Markle married Trevor Engelson in 2011; but the couple divorced in 2013, long before Ms Markle met Prince Harry.

The couple have met Archbishop Justin Welby on a number of occasions as part of the preparations for the wedding; and Ms Markle asked Archbishop Justin to baptise her. It has been widely reported that she was baptised and confirmed by Archbishop Justin at St James’ Palace in London in March.

“It was very special,” Archbishop Justin told ITV News. “It was beautiful, sincere and very moving. It was a great privilege. . . You know at the heart of it is two people who have fallen in love with each other, who are committing their lives to each other with the most beautiful words and profound thoughts, who do it in the presence of God.”

Previous royal weddings have involved a range of preachers. When Queen Elizabeth married Prince Philip in Westminster Abbey in November November 1947, the service was conducted by the Dean of Westminster, Alan Don, while the wedding itself was officiated by the Archbishop of Canterbury Geoffrey Fisher. The sermon was preached by the Archbishop of York, Cyril Garbett.

Prince Harry’s mother and father, Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer, took the unusual decision of marrying at London’s St Paul’s Cathedral in 1981. They were married by the Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie, who also preached. In 2005, after Diana’s death, Prince Charles married his second wife Camilla, now Duchess of Cornwall, in a civil ceremony at Windsor Guildhall. This was followed by a Service of Prayer and Dedication at St George’s, Windsor, conducted by Archbishop Rowan Williams. There was no sermon in that service.

Prince Harry’s older brother, Prince William, married his wife Catherine at Westminster Abbey in 2011. The Dean of Westminster, John Hall, presided over the service, while the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, conducted the wedding. The Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, Dean of Her Majesty’s Chapels Royal, preached the sermon.

St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle is located within the area of the Church of England’s Diocese of Oxford; but it outside the jurisdiction of the diocesan bishop. It is one of a small number of C of E churches known as Royal Peculiars – which means that it is under the direct control of the monarch, rather than the diocesan bishop or archbishop. Amongst the other Royal Peculiars are Westminster Abbey, the five chapels that make up the Chapels Royal, and the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft, in the Houses of Parliament.

[caption id="attachment_1919" align="aligncenter" width="460"] St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle
Photo: Aurelien Guichard / Flickr[/caption]

THE US-based Episcopal Church is the oldest independent Anglican province outside the British Isles. When European travellers first colonised what is now the United States of America, they took with them clergy from European Churches, including the Church of England. C of E clergy and churches in the US were under the ecclesial authority of the Bishop of London; and despite requests from the Church of England in America and the Bishop of London himself, no suffragan bishop was appointed to reside in and serve the Church locally.

After the War of Independence, the Anglican Church in America effectively ceased to be part of the Church of England – not least because of the political difficulties of a Church tied to one nation trying to serve the population of another nation that had just won its independence. Now locally organised, Anglicans in America adopted the names Episcopal and Episcopalian, because even the name “Anglican” denoted its English origins.

The real split, however, came in 1784, when Church of England bishops refused to consecrate the American Church’s first bishop, Samuel Seabury. This was because of his reluctance to swear an oath of allegiance to the British Crown. He was instead consecrated by bishops from the Scottish Episcopal Church, who had their own historical reasons to distance themselves from the Church of England.

Today, the US-based Episcopal Church has 109 dioceses and regional areas in 17 nations. It is one of 39 independent but interdependent autonomous Provinces of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

[caption id="attachment_1918" align="alignright" width="200"] Presiding Bishop Michael Curry
Photo: The Episcopal Church[/caption]

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry is the senior bishop and Primate of the US-based Episcopal Church. He is a passionate evangelist. In an interview with ACNS following his installation as the Episcopal Church’s 27th Presiding Bishop and Primate in November 2015, he stressed the need for Christians to be part of “the Jesus Movement”.

“I can tell you that I believe passionately in the Great Commission and its call to go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; and teaching them to obey everything that Jesus has taught us,” he said.

“I believe that that’s a call, an invitation and an exciting possibility; and I think that is one of the foundational principles of our call to be the Church: to help to make other followers of Jesus who can then, following his teachings and following the way of Jesus in their life and in our lives together, help to make this world a better world – something that is less like a nightmare and more like God’s dream and God’s vision and God’s intention for the human family and the whole of creation.

“That, for me, is one of the centre-pieces of the Gospel.”

A date to remember: 6 March

[caption id="attachment_1909" align="alignright" width="300"] Jill Saward and Gavin Drake
© Gavin Drake[/caption]

The 6 March was, in many ways, no big deal. It was just another date in the calendar. But it was a date that we couldn’t ignore, either. This was a date that I had to remember. It was a date that I had to be ultra-sensitive. It was a date that I knew my wife would receive a phone call or text from her twin sister.

The 6 March was the anniversary of a brutal attack that would leave two people in hospital with cracked skulls, and my wife indelibly marked by a brutal rape and sexual assault. I hadn’t met my wife, Jill Saward, then. I was a 15-year-old schoolboy in Walsall. Jilly was a 21-year-old vicar’s daughter in west London. But despite not knowing her, I was to know all about the attack. It was front-page news for days and led bulletins on television and radio.

Jill died in January 2017, so this is the second 6 March without her. And, even though she isn’t here, I still feel the repercussions of the date; and, even though I’m trying to be my usual silly-self, my mind keeps going back to an incident that I wasn’t even at, involving people I wouldn’t meet until more than six years later.

Can good come from such an attack? Well, Jill’s campaign work and her support for victims wouldn’t have happened without that attack. I wouldn’t have met Jill in the hospitality area of the Greenbelt arts festival. And my three wonderful sons wouldn’t have been born.

I mentioned earlier the indelible mark that the attack had left on Jill. She was often portrayed as somebody who had got over the attack. And, in many ways, she had; but not completely. The rape and its aftermath stayed with Jill for the rest of her life. She lived a life of joy, and she sought to bring joy to others. But there was always something that would trigger painful memories and emotions. She coped, because she learned how to; because she had the love and support of family and friends; and because she felt a strength which she knew was God-given.

That’s why 6 March was a date to be ultra-sensitive; and to be aware of things that might bring back the pain.

But 6 March wasn’t just Jill’s date to remember. Many victims will have “their date” on this day. For others it will be the 5 March, or the 7 March, or any date of the year. Every day is somebody’s anniversary. Every day is lots of people’s anniversary.

The indelible mark is an internal blight. It doesn’t affect a person’s outward beauty. But it does affect how they feel. I can’t be sensitive to Jill anymore. She is no longer here. But I can try to be sensitive to other victims. And so can you.

Rape is not a women’s issue. Women do not cause rape (with very, very few exceptions). The fight to end rape, to stop other women having an anniversary to remember, is one that will only be won when men join the fight.

We need to challenge misogyny. We need to challenge attitudes and behaviour by other men that treat women as commodities. We need to say “enough is enough” and call out everyday sexism and harassment.

That is how I am going to be sensitive to other victims. That is my pledge on this 6 March.

We need to talk about Geoffrey Robinson’s Organ Donor (Deemed Consent) Bill

We need to talk about Geoffrey Robinson’s Organ Donor (Deemed Consent) Bill

I am all in favour of organ donation. So you may think I’d be in favour of the Private Member’s Bill introduced by Geoffrey Robinson, the Labour MP for Coventry North West. Well, actually, no. I’m not. But I am very grateful to the MP for introducing the Bill, which will have its Second Reading debate today, because it gives us an opportunity to talk about it.

But first, in a nutshell, Mr Robinson’s Bill is a simple, short and to-the-point piece of law which would amend the Section 3 of the Human Tissue Act 2004. If the Bill becomes law, a patient who meets the criteria for organ donation will have deemed to have consented, unless they had taken steps to opt-out. The steps to opt-out are simple and do not involve the creation of a register, it merely requires “a person who stood in a qualifying relationship to the person concerned” providing information to the medics “that would lead a reasonable person to conclude that the person concerned would not have consented.”

What is there to object to?

My concern with the Bill is that the evidence from Wales, where deemed consent was introduced in December 2015, is that the number of organ donors fell. Now, it is early days, as this paper by Andreas Albertsen, of the Department of Political Science at Aarhus University, and published by the British Medical Journal, explains, but this is something that must be observed for longer and considered before we take similar steps elsewhere in the UK.

The Bill itself would change little to the dynamics of consent as a patient approaches death. Specialist transplant nurses, supported by doctors, would still approach families and next of kin to talk about organ donation. The transplant will not go ahead if the family or next of kin object, because this objection could be considered to be information “that would lead a reasonable person to conclude that the person concerned would not have consented.”

And so, even though I’m not convinced Geoffrey Robinson’s Bill is the answer to the problem of the shortage of organs, I am very grateful to him for introducing the Bill, because it gives us a chance to talk about it. And talk about it is what we need to do.

For some people, what I am going to suggest will be very difficult. But it needs to be said:

Take a look at your loved ones: your wife or husband, your parents, your children; and imagine, for a moment that they are close to the end of their life.

Now ask yourself a question. If you were asked about organ donation, would you say yes?

I was a little mischievous in that question: I didn’t indicate in the scenario whether your loved one was the patient being kept alive by breathing machines whose organs might be suitable for translation; or whether your loved one was the patient fighting to stay alive until a suitable organ becomes available.

[caption id="attachment_1905" align="alignright" width="300"] Jill Saward
© Gavin Drake[/caption]

Last January, my wife had a stroke – it was described by the doctor as a “catastrophic bleed to the brain”. As the ambulance drove her to the hospital I knew it was very serious. I declined the invitation to ride in the ambulance. I told them that I would go by car so that I could bring her back. But, deep down, I knew that I wouldn’t. I drove slowly to the hospital because I didn’t want to hear the news that I thought was inevitable.

Jill was 51-years-old and, until the stroke hit – a subarachnoid haemorrhage – there was no indication that she was close to death. After the stroke hit, she remained unconscious until she died, two days later. There was no opportunity at that point to talk to her about organ donation. But I knew without any doubt that Jill would want to donate her organs. And so did her twin sister, who had travelled to join me at the hospital for Jill’s final days.

We knew that this was what Jill would want so much, that we raised it with the medics before they had the opportunity to raise it with us. We knew, because both of us had had conversations with Jilly about it. The twins first spoke about it when they were teenagers. Jilly and I spoke about it whenever organ donation issues were in the news or in television programmes.

Talking about it is the most useful thing that can happen with Geoffrey Robinson’s Bill. Whether it becomes law or not, nothing will change unless people talk about it and understand the way their loved one feels.

It isn’t as daunting as it may sound. You don’t need to hold some sort of formal meeting and keep notes or fill out forms. You don’t even need to ask your loved one: “Do you want to donate your organs when you die?” You can tell them that you want to donate yours. You can ask them what they think about the proposed new law. You can do it while you’re watching the television. You can do while you are doing the washing up. You can do it while you’re having a pint. You can do it when you go to bed in the morning. The key thing is to do it. And to do it before it is too late to do it.

Why is this important?

It is important because people are dying while waiting for a transplant; and the available “pool” of potential organs is very small. To be an organ donor, a person has to die in a hospital intensive care unit after teams of people in different hospitals have been brought together.

So it is important that those whose deaths can bring lives to others are used in that way.

So talk. Tell your loved ones what your views are. And ask them what their views are.

There is no need to be superstitious: talking about death will not hasten death. But it could bring life.