Skip to comments."Organ Donation Euthanasia": A Dangerous Proposal
Posted on 05/30/2010 1:23:34 PM PDT by wagglebee
Should we adopt euthanasia to maximize our supply of available organs for transplantation?
For several decades transplant medicine has suffered from a critical shortfall in the supply of organs needed for patients with organ failure. As a result thousands of patients die each year on waiting lists. Presently there are over 100,000 patients awaiting donor organs in the U.S.; in 2007 alone, 18 patients per day died waiting for deceased donor organs. The problem has given rise to significant milestones in end-of-life medicine. For example, the shift in the 1960s from diagnosing human death in terms of the cessation of heart and lung function (cardio-pulmonary death) to neurological criteria (whole brain death) was motivated by a desire to preserve more transplantable organs. Another idea thats been debated over the years is organ conscription. This very month, lawmakers in New York introduced an opt out organ conscription bill that would presume that all patients are organ donors unless they explicitly opt out on their drivers license.  Those of us whose organs are more or less healthy may not appreciate the distress that patients and their families feel knowing that their lives could be saved if only their names reach the top of the wait list.
The most recent contribution to this ongoing conversation was recently published in the prestigious journal Bioethics.  Two medical ethicists from Oxford University, Julian Savulescu (you might recall his name from my recent piece on Transhumanism) and Dominic Wilkinson, argue that euthanasia should be used to maximize the number and quality of organs for transplantation. Patients should be allowed to designate on their end-of-life documents their desire to donate their organs through a process that the authors call Organ Donation Euthanasia or ODE. They carefully qualify the criteria for ODE eligibility: patients must be in intensive care and dependent on life support; they must have planned for the withdrawal of life support if their prognosis is poor; their condition is such that they will die anyway within a short time of the removal of life support; and they must explicitly consent to ODE. If these conditions are met, doctors may put them under general anesthesia and harvest their organs. But intentionally removing vital organs from a living patient, especially the heart, will ordinarily kill the patient. So the procedure is euthanasia. The authors identify four benefits to be gained by introducing ODE into transplant medicine: 1) patient autonomy is maximized; 2) patients are provided the widest possible scope to donate their organs; 3) the supply of viable organs for transplantation is significantly increased; and 4) patients are less likely to suffer (because of the general anesthesia) than they would be through the ordinary withdrawal of life support.
The authors assess these benefits in the light of the concept of a Pareto improvement, a principle used in economics to determine whether we have strong reasons to prefer some alternative. The principlewhich the authors call one of the most basic principles of rationalitystates that some proposed alternative constitutes a Pareto improvement if as a result of its implementation at least one person is better off while no person is left worse off. It follows that if some state of affairs constitutes a Pareto improvement, then we have strong reasons to adopt that alternative.
Savulescu and Wilkinson confidently assert that ODE for eligible patients constitutes a Pareto improvement. It is superior to the current practice of removing life support, waiting until patients die, and then harvesting their organs (called donation after cardiac death, or DCD); both in the case of DCD and ODE a patient dies, but with ODE more lives are able to be saved because more useful organs can be harvested from a living human being than from a corpse.
I went into their complicated concept of a Pareto improvement so you (our readers) might appreciate the next thing the authors say in their essay. It illustrates with startling clarity the deficiency of the utilitarian reasoning they use to justify ODE. They say: ODE might not be regarded as a Pareto improvement if the killing of the patient were regarded as a moral harm or a rights violation. However, it is difficult to see why a patient is morally harmed or has their rights violated if they are actively killed, compared with a state of affairs where they die as a result of treatment withdrawal, assuming that they have consented to either. For our authors, and for utilitarians generally, moral harm is calculated exclusively as a function of measurable outcomes. If death promises to follow upon each of two alternatives, and one alternative promises in addition to death some measurable benefit, thenpresuming informed consent in relation to boththat alternative presumptively is rationally superior. After all D + B (where D equals guaranteed and consented-to death and B some measurable benefit) must be superior to D alone.
Their argument that ODE causes no moral harm to patientsand by implication to anyone elseis weak, even by utilitarian standards. Does not the doctor who kills his patient harm himself? Forbidding practitioners under any circumstance to kill their patients imposes a salutary restraint upon everyone involved in the delivery of health care. It says that human life is a unique good whose respect deserves every possible safeguard. Is not the erosion of ones respect for the inviolability of the good of life a serious harm? Isnt it likely that having consented to the killing of patients for the sake of promised benefits, a practitioner will begin to prefer Organ Donation Euthanasia to donation governed by the traditional dead donor rule? And will not the profession generally begin to favor euthanasia as the optimal alternative for maximizing the acquisition of organs? Does not acceptance of ODE violate the time-honored principle of medical ethics, Do No Harm? Who can calculate the long-term harm to the medical profession and to patients as our communitys collective inhibition against doctors killing patients is relaxed in this one case? And as our community grows comfortable with ODE, will not this erode our moral inhibitions against other forms of euthanasia? Pareto improvements soon will be discovered in the simple killing of patients at their autonomous requests. The authors have already told us they believe that maximizing patient autonomy by permitting them to choose ODE is itself a great good. The ODE patient then, according to the authors own rational principle, is better off for having his autonomous will respected than if his request is denied; and his death, since it followed from patient autonomy, could hardly be seen to leave him worse off.
Will not harms also come to families and communities as conflicts arise between patients who desire ODE and spouses, children, siblings and in-laws who reasonably judge that killing, even for a good end, is wrong? Will not violence be done to the moral sensibilities of, say, a child, as her parents euthanasia is forced upon her? How should the community respond? Get over it, honey. Cant you see that assisted-suicide in this case is okay! Do not our authors consider the cultural divisiveness that their proposal will certainly precipitate a harm at least worth acknowledging? The tectonic shift that took place in the Wests ethical sensibilities when abortion become legal has inflicted an irreconcilable division on our community. In the U.S., States are blue or red according to whether or not the region supports killing the unborn, and the moral identity of our political parties are largely defined by their abortion platform. Killing for organs will be just one more knife slicing deeper into this cultural divide. Moreover, the Catholic Church runs over 270 hospitals in the US, a considerable percent of the overall medical care in the country. Those hospitals will refuse to honor an advanced directive that orders ODE. This means that the Savulescu proposal promises to precipitate profound dysfunction in the delivery of health care, at least in the US. Finally, for the hundreds of millions of persons who believe that the norm against killing is backed not only by reason, but by divine sanction, there is to consider also the grave spiritual harm to the patient, the patients killer, and all who wrongfully support the killing.
The authors judgment that no one will be morally harmed by introducing euthanasia into transplant medicine is profoundly naïve. The erosion of the moral sensibilities against killing of doctors, the medical profession and the wider community; the deepening division sown into the fabric of our community; the dysfunction introduced into the delivery of healthcare, all testify against their proposal.
The fact that a reputable journal such as Bioethics would feature an article promoting ODE illustrates how deeply our moral sensibilities against killing have already eroded. They eroded as a result of past proposals to make exceptions to the norm against killing in the delivery of health care. Travelling further down this same road by sanctioning ODE may profit us in the short run by gaining us a few extra organs to transplant; but the moral cost to our community will be very dear indeed.
 See discussion in the New York Times from May 2, 2010; http://roomfordebate.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/05/02/should-laws-encourage-organ-donation/
 See their essay Should We Allow Organ Donation Euthanasia? at: http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/cgi-bin/fulltext/123413671/main.html,ftx_abs?CRETRY=1&SRETRY=0
We're much farther down the slippery slope than most people realize.
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People so attached to life they would participate in this are people the world could really do without.
Either you are free and your organs belong to you or you are a slave and your organs belong to the state or someone else. There is no other choice.
The organ donation system needs to be altered so that those who have already signed Donor Cards will have priority if and when they need a donated organ and in order to save the government, hospitals and insurance companies money of costly transplants, donated organs should only go to those people who can pay the full cost of an organ transplant.
This will make me change my donor status on my DL, what a crazy world it is today.
How do they figure this will make more people want to donate organs? I think they could increase organ donations by allowing donors to keep their organs until they’re done using them. Are there really people out there who would be more likely to donate their organs if they knew the organs are removed while they’re still using them? What if we could donate our organs while we’re awake? Would that be another incentive?
The Chinese harvest organs from prisoners, etc., according to Chinese thought about the “value” of the lives of the donors—of course, they have no Judeo-Christian notions of bioethics to create a problem with doing so.
Yes. Who realized that signing an organ donor card, which seems so innocent and giving, would hasten your own demise?
It is very vile.
Me, that's who. I refuse to sign any donor card or authorize any organ harvesting whatsoever. I demand to be treated as a live patient as opposed to an incubator for somebody else's liver. This has been pretty easy to see coming for years. By the time I get into retirement, I imagine I will not be allowed to "resist."
Every competant military historian who has studied communist countries, and the rise of socialism in the first decades of the 20th century.
Probably not as many of us musicians, tho.
I learned about organ donor vileness a while back, but it always gave me the creeps that they had that form on the drivers’ license. Uck. But then the hastening death part/ it is so vile.
I did not put two and two together. Can learn so much on Free Republic.
I have always refused to be an organ donor and this just cements my position.
People who live with donated organs have no easy path, either. They have to take (AFAIK) immune suppressant drugs for the rest of their lives, and sometime there are other problems. It’s not a cure-all or something that works for everyone.
Everyone faces an end to the earthly body, and that is not actually a tragedy. The tragedy is to leave this world not knowing God, and to have committed crimes without repentence; clinging onto that with cannot save us. To hasten anyone’s departure is a crime; but to prolong one’s earthly tenure at the expense of someone else is another crime indeed.
Almost anybody who had thought about it. I have been turning down opportunities to sign up for organ donation ever since they started and I leaqrned they used “brain death” as the criterion.
>> Everyone faces an end to the earthly body, and that is not actually a tragedy. The tragedy is to leave this world not knowing God, and to have committed crimes without repentence;
>> ...clinging onto that with cannot save us. To hasten anyones departure is a crime; but to prolong ones earthly tenure at the expense of someone else is another crime indeed.
That’s also true; however, the decision not to prolong one’s brief stay here on earth should be a decision made in a spirit of love by the inhabitant of the body, or at worst by a close family member.
It should NOT be the decision of the State.
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