It is an age-old debate in politics, as relevant now as it has ever been. Where does society limit the state’s power? At what point do civil liberties become less important than societal good?
Lately there has been talk of restrictions on smoking in your own car. We had the proposed identity cards in the mid-2000s, and we have the compulsory BBC licence fee, which is in effect a tax on owning a television.
The Scottish Government is now proposing to introduce a Bill that would mean you have to opt-out of organ donation, rather than the current system of opting-in.
This is being done for a good reason, to create a better supply of organs for transplantation. The laudable aims behind it perhaps explain why it has thus far raised so few objections.
It would be possible to give such a proposal a much a less sympathetic spin. One might, for example view it as the state presuming ownership over your internal organs.
We could very soon have a situation in Scotland where when you die, unless you have specifically opted-out, your body can be taken, cut-open and your organs can be harvested by the state, without your express permission.
The implication here is that your body and your organs are the state’s property once you die.
This is an extraordinary abuse of the state’s power. Can you imagine the outcry if a law passed that all your belongings were forfeit to the state upon your death? People would be outraged.
Yet the same situation is being proposed by the Scottish Government for our organs, and there is a barely a hint of dissent.
This move is backed by a powerful lobby of health charities, against whom it is difficult to argue without being decried as uncaring about the plight of poor patients with terrible illnesses.
But this move is a cop-out, an admission of failure on the part of those who have tried hard to promote the organ donor register have failed to get people interested enough. So rather than re-think their approach, or trying harder, or devoting more resources to their campaigning, they are looking for a shortcut, and the Scottish Government is only too happy to oblige this powerful lobby of patients and doctors.
When you are part of a political blog such as the Scottish Politics Review, you expect to have to broach the difficult, sometimes emotive issue of state power versus individual liberty. We have to admit though, that we never though that debate would be taking us into the realms of inner-space.