Southend, Southbank, Surrey

So begins a travelogue of a heroic attempt on my part to visit every place in England that begins with the letter ‘S’.

More success was realised in my visits to three different places of education in each of these locations in the course of one week. My mission: to talk with three groups of young people about our 2011 report Human bodies: donation for medicine and research.

The first – Southend School for Boys (which includes girls) – brought up some really interesting views on the issues explored in the report: “Why is it ok for sperm donors to get money, but not kidney donors?”, asked one student. Quite the question, and indicative of the insight this group of sixth formers brought to a Monday afternoon – some of whom are keen bioethicists in the making, and have set up their own bioethics committee which meets once a week. (Nuffield Council members beware: these students could give you a run for your money.)

The second was a visit to London Southbank University, and its group of third year bioscience students. The visit to LSBU has become an event that we enjoy on an annual basis, and often brings up fresh perspectives on the topics we discuss. On this occasion, students responded to our approach to altruist and non-altruist-focused interventions in the context of donation, eliciting some very interesting views about payment and commodification. They levelled tricky questions about how autonomy sits alongside laws that prevent people from selling their kidneys, creating a debate amongst themselves about how this could then impact on poorer members of society who might be under significant pressure to do ‘all they can’ to pay their bills.

The third visit was to St. Teresa’s in Effingham where, again, the questions raised by the students and the depth of thought on display were impressive. One student asked whether what we do with bodily material comes down to questions of consciousness; others drew out some of the key issues attached to egg sharing arrangements (particularly notable as it was a new concept to all who attended); and how developments in artificial bodily material might, in the future, override the need for donors – thus removing an opportunity for people to behave in an altruistic way.

These three visits were a joy to undertake, and highlighted how insightful the views of young people are – an important issue which we will be revisiting in our current project on children and clinical research.

We love being given the chance to visit schools, colleges and universities to talk about our work – it gives us a chance to think about the work we undertake via fresh pairs of (younger) eyes and ears. So, if anyone in Swindon, Sheffield, Skegness or Swaffham would like to hear about organ donation, or any of our other projects (subject to diaries and our people being available), please do get in touch.*

* Schools and colleges from places that begin with any of the other letters of the alphabet may also apply.

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