Presidential Address – Governing Body September 2011

In this Presidential Address, I want to reflect on a number of issues of concern to our nation and church.

Presumed Consent

The Welsh Government intends to bring forward legislation soon, where instead of opting in to be an organ donor and therefore signing a card, it will be assumed that everyone is willing to donate their organs after death unless they have opted out. The trouble at the moment is that whereas 90% of the population say that they would be willing to be organ donors, only a third have signed the national register or carry a donor card. So the Government in Wales (but in no other part of the UK) proposes to bring in a law where it will be presumed that you are willing to donate your organs after death unless you have specifically opted not to do so.

One can understand the thinking behind all this. Most European States have more donors per head of population than Britain. In the UK as a whole, there are around 10,000 people waiting at any one time for a new heart, kidney or liver and three people a day die because there is no suitable organ ready for them. The waiting list for a kidney patient is three years whilst heart and liver patients wait on average six months. Organ transplants have a phenomenal degree of success these days and 90% of transplanted organs function really well a year after surgery and patients who have received them can often live for a decade or two.

The Welsh Government, sensitive to the fact that this is quite a radical departure, also proposes what it calls the “soft opt-out option” – relatives will be able to have the right of veto on organ donation. Yet, although all this is admirable in its intention, I feel a bit uneasy, not about organ donations or transplants because there are strict guidelines governing these and gifting organs is a laudable practice, but about presumed consent.

There is, in presumed consent, a subtle or perhaps not so subtle change of emphasis in the relationship between the individual and the State. That is, that unless we have opted out, our organs belong to the State and the State has the right to do with them as it wills. The implication, by default, is that the State can decide on our behalf. I think that compromises individual rights and freedoms and poses the moral question as to whether the State can make such decisions. Is this a legitimate power, in other words, for any State? True, the State will argue that such power will only be taken after consultation with relatives but there is a presumption in favour of the State and almost the belief that our bodies are State assets and therefore at the State’s disposal. All this at a time when the medical profession is trying to be more open with patients in discussing the choices available to them in their treatment and getting them to make their own choices and be in control of their own lives.

It is also interesting that a Government Task Force in England has rejected this reasoning and has argued that it does not believe that presumed consent will increase the number of organs available for transplant. What is apparently crucial is the efficiency and sensitivity of the service offered and trust in the doctors concerned. Here in Wales, an All Party Assembly Report also disapproved of presumed consent.

There is another theological argument. Organ donation surely ought to be a matter of gift. If one takes organs without consent, on the assumption that by not opting out, a person is tacitly assenting, then that is no longer a free gift to others. An organ donation ought to be precisely that, a gift, an act of love and generosity. Giving organs is the most generous act of self giving imaginable but it has to be a choice that is freely embraced, not something that the State assumes. Put more crudely, it turns volunteers into conscripts. Presumed consent is not really consent at all, merely the assumption that there are no objections.

I think it also puts doctors and nurses who have to carry it out in an invidious position. It almost makes them servants of the State and could lead to a subtle change in the relationship between doctor and patient. This could, in the long term, undermine trust in the medical profession.

I think the real way forward is for us all to try and encourage people to donate their organs and in order to make this more possible, the State ought to look at whether there can be questions on census forms, when we register with GPs or complete a tax return. Already in applying for a new driving licence, that question is now asked. This does at least ensure that there is a way of registering whether you want your organs donated or not and there obviously needs to be a much harder drive to get people to donate.

Professor John Saunders, who is the current Chair of the Royal College of Physicians’ Committee on ethical issues in medicine has advocated that what we should have is a mandated choice, that is a legally mandated decision where all adults would be required by law to indicate their wishes about the use of their organs after death. This could be done through the Electoral Register or some other mechanism. That would then mean that individuals would be free to make whatever choice they wanted in relation to the use of their organs but they would be required to make that decision. It would be worth having that debate and by making people more aware, might encourage more organ donations.

It is true that some countries which operate presumed consent have more organ donors than the UK. It is argued, however, that this is because of other factors such as the availability of donors, organisation and infrastructure of the transplantation service, wealth and investment in healthcare and a greater awareness of the issue in these countries. It also depends on the number of donor coordinators who work with bereaved families, the number of specialists who retrieve organs and on public information campaigns. The argument in favour of presumed consent is not, therefore, as straightforward as it seems. Sweden and Israel, which operate an opt out system, as is proposed in Wales, have low rates of organ donors and the Spanish President of the National Transplant Organisation has acknowledged that Spain’s presumed consent legislation is probably not the primary reason for the country’s success in increasing the donor rates since the 1990’s. Although Spain had presumed consent since 1979, only in 1989 with a new National Transplant Programme, did donations rise.

We certainly need more organ donors and there are leaflets and information about how to become one, on your seats. We could help save the lives of others. Offering our organs to save lives is love in action and part of what it means to love our neighbours and so goes to the heart of what it is to be a disciple of Jesus.

Welsh Language:

The status of the Welsh language in our national life has been given great prominence in recent months when the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport informed S4C that its budget was being cut by 24% over the next four years and that from 2013 onwards, the bulk of its funding would come from the BBC Licence Fee.

Last week, the Government said it had formalised an agreement with the BBC regarding S4C which would allow the BBC to determine the funding levels of S4C from 2015 – 16. S4C does not appear to have been consulted at all. Moreover, the Government told the House of Commons that guaranteeing S4C’s operational independence would compromise the BBC’s accountability for licence fee money. Yet operational independence was the basis on which S4C was founded. The Coalition Government does not appear to have grasped the importance of an independent S4C. It is one of our national institutions and needs to be both independent and adequately funded. Both the Welsh Affairs Committee and the Culture Committee at Westminster have criticised the total lack of consultation involved. It was one of my predecessors as Archbishop of Wales, Archbishop Gwilym Williams who, amongst others, fought hard to ensure that Wales had its own Welsh television channel because he realised the enormous influence it could have. It raises, of course, the question about the place of the Welsh language in the life of all our institutions.

One recent correspondent expressed concern about its place in the life of the Church in Wales. What had triggered it was a seemingly simple issue but one which goes to the heart of the matter. She had been given freewill offering envelopes printed in English only. She went on to say that it did not matter, even had there not been any Welsh speakers in that particular church (in fact there were), the impression given, in certain parts of the Province, was that the Church in Wales was an English church.

It is a fact that there are many churches with notice boards in English only and where English only hymn books and prayer books are used. Now, the Church in Wales is not here to preserve the language or to make an idol of it, but it is a bilingual church, seeking to serve every community throughout Wales. It has a long and distinguished record in offering services and ministry bilingually and many Welsh clergy have been great scholars and linguists. But even if no Welsh services are held, things such as notice boards, freewill offering envelopes, hymn and prayer books ought to be available in both languages to emphasise the fact that we seek to minister to every person in every community.

The Church in Wales made a mistake in producing English language only prayer books alongside bilingual ones in the 1980s. It has led to some churches having no worship books in the Welsh language at all. Quite apart from the fact that that language is part of our heritage, and that for many, it is their first language and the language of their worship and prayer, one ought never to underestimate the symbolic and psychological effects of not giving it a proper place in the life of all our churches. It was my predecessor, as Bishop of Llandaff, William Morgan, after all who was responsible for translating the scriptures into Welsh in 1588 and thereby saved the Welsh language from extinction.

When we were part of the Province of Canterbury up to 1920, no Welsh speaking bishop was appointed to any Welsh See from 1715 – 1870. It was partly because the Church of England in Wales was therefore seen as an alien church in the 19th Century, refusing to give a proper place to the language, that disestablishment occurred. In the years since then, the Church in Wales has tried to be true to its inheritance by giving equal status to both languages and thereby regaining credibility. With all the other challenges we face, we must not forget this one or else we will give the impression, says my correspondent, “that we are an English, imperialistic church that no longer cares very deeply about the Welsh language and treats those who speak Welsh as second class citizens”. She goes on to say “none of that is true but that is the impression that can be given so that Welsh speakers can feel disregarded within their own church. They often suffer in silence because they do not wish to cause discord in their local congregation”.

This is, in reality, an issue about our mission to the people and nation of Wales and also an issue of justice. It will not do to dismiss such letters as being of little importance because we have, as a Church, a Welsh language scheme based on the Welsh Language Act of 1993. It states very clearly that “the Church in Wales in conducting its public activities in Wales, will treat Welsh and English as languages of equal validity”. In order to help us to do that better, the Bench of Bishops, in partnership with the Standing Committee, has established a Working Party which has been asked, among other things, “to consider what good practice in the provision of services and other ministry bilingually might mean”.

Now I know some of the problems – few vocations come from Welsh speaking parishes; the Anglicisation of what were once predominantly Welsh speaking areas through holiday and retirement homes (though many retired people have learnt Welsh) has increased, and there is a paucity of Welsh speaking clergy. But it is easy to forget that there are Welsh speakers in every parish and if that fact is not reflected in our worship and our life, then all of us are diminished.

The Diocese of Llandaff was, for example, one of the most Welsh speaking of dioceses in previous centuries. Even though there are more Welsh speakers and learners in it than in any other part of the Province, because of its large population, that fact is not reflected in the life of its parishes, and that greatly saddens me. We no longer have many Welsh speaking clergy and there are very few Welsh or even bilingual services. Wherever I go, I use the Welsh language for part of the service and I am amazed at the number of people who speak to me in Welsh afterwards and the number of people who do not speak Welsh, who nevertheless value the use of the language. I look forward to receiving the report we have commissioned to see how we can address this issue.

Church Schools:

Church schools have been much in the news this year. In July, the Board of Education of the Church of England published a document called “Admission to Church of England Schools”, stressing the vocation of such schools in educating the poor in order to change their lives. That was the chief function of the National Society whose bicentenary will be celebrated in Westminster Abbey in October this year. It was founded “to promote the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church throughout England and Wales”.

The Church of England document affirms what has long been true in Wales, of the duty of church schools, both to serve the communities in which they are situated and “to provide an education within an explicitly Anglican ethos”. Church schools then, are both distinctive and inclusive, serving those who do not belong, especially the poor, as well as those who do belong to the church. Our own Education Review Report in 2009 highlighted the fact that our church schools also welcomed people from other denominations and other faiths.

As the Dearing Report put it, “Church schools should nourish those of faith; encourage those of other faiths; and challenge those of no faith”. In Wales, there are more than 250 schools with a religious character provided by the Church in Wales and the Roman Catholic Church (168 of these are Anglican). They serve 50,000 pupils, so that one in eight school places in our country are provided by church schools. 75% of Welsh clergy say they visit schools – community as well as church ones – every week and see that work as a priority for pastoral care and oversight.

In June this year, the Welsh Government published a document entitled “Faith in Education”, a document that outlines the partnership that exists between our Government and churches in the field of education. Wales, of course, has made its own laws on all matters relating to education for the last decade. Indeed, education and training were the first areas of law to be devolved completely to Wales and because of the statutory responsibility of the Church in Wales in education, Church and Government have worked closely together. The difficulty has always been, however, that this relationship has depended on good working relationships, and the fear, the possibility of a ministerial appointment showing little sympathy to faith schools.

The publication of this document establishes the provision of faith based education securely within the work of the Welsh Government and that is a matter for rejoicing. In a foreword to the document, the Minister for Education says that the Welsh Government believes strongly “in celebrating the different and diverse cultures within Wales. Schools with a religious character are one aspect of the diversity within our communities and the Welsh Government acknowledges the significance faith has played in the development of the education system in Wales. Schools with a religious character, continue to fulfil a valuable role in Welsh society”.

The document delineates the ethos and characters of faith schools and sets out the basis for a faith dimension within education. It tackles the question of the distinctive ethos of schools with a religious character and the contribution they can make to wider society. In one sense it does not say anything new, but affirms and confirms the role of the Church in education and sets a clear path for effective partnership in the future.

Having said that, it is a seminal document because it acknowledges that church schools in Wales are now a feature of the educational landscape. It acknowledges the very positive contribution church schools make to the publicly funded system of education in Wales. Archbishop Rowan, commenting on the recent riots, stressed the importance of schools teaching the value of virtue, character and citizenship – things which our church schools try to do. It is their emphasis on moral responsibility as well as academic achievement that can directly counter what the Prime Minister identified after the riots as the “slow motion moral collapse” of society.

Let me quote one or two excerpts from it which illustrate the points I have been making “There is a misconception that schools with a religious character serve a sectarian interest, are monochrome in their intake and outlook and bring together a socially narrow learner population. Evidence shows that schools in the sector draw learners both from their local neighbourhood and the wider community, often providing an environment of rich social diversity. Significant numbers of places are offered to those of other faiths or indeed of no faith.” In St. Mary the Virgin School in Butetown for example, more than half the pupils come from Muslim homes.

And again, “Schools in the religious sector welcome and teach learners with different needs and from different backgrounds because their vision is the belief that each child is fundamentally equal and is a unique gift of God. Respecting the dignity of all is driven by the concept of loving God through loving your neighbour, a belief lived out in school communities by welcoming and celebrating differences, and viewing them as positive contributions to life in the world.”

These are strong statements in a Government document, and just as at the beginning of this address I raised questions about Government policy, so at the end, I want to express gratitude to the Government for honouring the place of Church schools, and therefore, of the Christian Faith in the educational system of our nation.