Human Exceptionalism

Killing for Organs: The MSM Begins to Notice

I have been warning here at SHS and in my other writings, that some bioethicists and organ transplant physicians want societal license to kill patients for their organs. Now, thanks to Will Saletan writing in the Washington Post, the MSM is finally noticing. From Saletan’s column:

Robert Truog, an ethicist who supports the Denver protocol, says this redefinition of death has gone too far. Let’s accept that we’re taking organs from living people and causing death in the process, he argues. This is ethical as long as the patient has “devastating neurologic injury” and has provided, through advance directive or a surrogate, informed consent to be terminated this way. We already let surrogates authorize removal of life support, he notes. Why not treat donations similarly? Traditional safeguards, such as the separation of the transplant team from the patient’s medical team, will prevent abuse. And the public will accept the new policy since surveys suggest we’re not hung up on whether the donor is dead.

Surveys, shmurveys. Everybody now knows that the opinion poll can be–and often is–used to obtain a desired result as much as truly measure public attitudes. Plus, the answers to a survey question depends almost absolutely on the wording of the question asked. Moreover, I am willing to bet Troug a lot of money that most people would be aghast at killing patients for their organs if the wording of the poll were stated accurately. If you want to destroy the public’s confidence in transplant medicine, just start bumping people off for their hearts and kidneys. That sound you would hear throughout the country would be people tearing up their organ donor cards.

But polls and surveys are quite beside the point. Even if the people were salivating to get at the organs of patients with profound cognitive disabilities and devastating neurological prognoses, setting up a system to have doctors kill people for their organs be morally wrong, indeed, evil. It would turn human beings into a natural resource, objects, crops to be harvested for the benefit of others. It would literally be a crime against humanity and legalizing it and redefining it would not change the sheer wrongness of the deed. Open that door, and you can kiss what is left of our moral society goodbye as we would be caught in a utilitarian dystopia in which the strong preyed on the weak and nobody would be safe.

Saletan gets it:

But down that road lies even greater uncertainty. How devastating does the injury have to be? If death is vulnerable to redefinition, isn’t “devastating” even more so? The same can be asked of “futility,” the standard used by the Denver team to select donors. Is it safe to base lethal decisions on the ebb and flow of public opinion, particularly when the same surveys show confusion about death standards? And can termination decisions really be insulated from pressure to donate? Even if each family makes its own choice, aren’t we loosening standards for termination precisely to get more organs?

Yes we are. Unfortunately, Saletan seems resigned, and indeed appears to surrender:

Modern medicine has brought us tremendous power. Boundaries such as death, heart stoppage and ownership of organs have guided our moral thinking because they seemed fixed in nature. Now we’ve unmoored them. I’m a registered donor because I believe in the gift of life and think that the job of providing organs falls to each of us. So does the job of deciding when we can rightly take them.

Well, if that is the case, why limit the killing for organs to people with neurological injuries? How about anyone who wants to die? Rather than jump off the Golden Gate Bridge, just come in to a procurement center, sign the forms, have a two week waiting period, and then get your heart cut out? I mean, if we are going to throw up our hands at enforcing uniform societal standards and reduce everything to “choice,” why not treat people’s organs like so many prize truffles?

Sometimes, you just have to say, “Not on my watch!” And mean it.