I blame my pal Ralph Nader and the law of unintended consequences: Improved safety–such as seat belt and helmet laws–resulted in far fewer catastrophic brain injuries. Great news! But that has meant fewer people experience “brain death.” And that has led to a consequential reduction in organ donors.
Reduced supply and greater demand–due to improvements in transplant techniques–threaten to push us into unethical territory. From the National Post story:
It’s a medical success story with an unavoidable consequence: Fewer people who suffer severe head injuries are being declared “brain dead” — the major source of organs for transplant. The findings, published in this week’s issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, help explain “stagnant or even declining rates of deceased organ donation,” Canadian researchers say, and mean doctors will need to increasingly look for other sources of organs — including from patients who aren’t formally “neurologically dead.”
The story concerns the Canadian situation. But I would warrant the same is true in the USA.
Alas, as I have discussed here and elsewhere frequently, the reduced organ supply and the increased demand has many in bioethics and organ transplant medicine urging that we kill living, seriously brain injured patients, for their organs.
We have some even saying that organ donation should be mandatory after death.
Organ transplant medicine is a wonderful thing. But the desire to help desperately ill patients threatens to induce us to abandon morality and ethics in the name of healing.