Human Exceptionalism

Killing for Organs

I have a piece up on CNS News.Com on the renewed drive to dismantle the dead donor rule that requires vital organ donors to be dead before procurement. From my column:

Oh-oh: Here they come. For years, organ transplant ethicists and some in the bioethics community have agitated to increase the supply of donated organs. There is nothing wrong with that in the abstract, of course. Increasing the supply would alleviate much human suffering and is devoutly to be wished. But therein lurks a great danger. Increasing supply is a worthy goal only so long as the organs are obtained ethically. But there is a growing chorus among the medical and bioethical intelligentsia to obtain more organs by harvesting living patients. Yes, some of our most influential voices now seek a license to kill for organs.They don’t put it that bluntly, of course. Rather—reflecting the spirit of our times—advocates argue that our definition of death should be changed to allow a great pretense that living patients are actually dead, thus permitting organ procurement.

I get into the Nature editorial, discussed here last week.  Not mentioned, because I wasn’t aware of it when this was written–darn!–is a similar call in the Journal of Medical Ethics.) I then pivot, and connect the call to harvest living human beings at the one end of life, with the current harvesting of embryos and proposed harvesting of fetuses:

We are not—yet—at the point that society will permit open harvesting and experimentation on cognitively devastated people, but that doesn’t mean we won’t get there. The slippery slope undermining human exceptionalism—the intrinsic value of human life simply and merely because it is human—is already slip-sliding away. Popular majorities support using nascent human life as corn crops in embryonic stem cell research, if the embryos were “leftovers” and going to be thrown out anyway.

But scientists have already moved beyond that early limitation. Many are now actively researching human cloning toward the end of manufacturing embryos for use and destruction in research.  And it won’t stop there if current trends continue. We already see early advocacy for “fetal farming,” that is, gestating fetuses for use in organ transplantation and medical experimentation.

New Jersey has already legalized cloned fetal farming, as a matter of fact. Here’s the conclusion:

It would be a terrible mistake to say, “It can’t happen here.” For as the late theologian Fr. Richard John Neuhaus once wrote, “Thousands of medical ethicists and bioethicists, as they are called, professionally guide the unthinkable on its passage through the debatable on its way to becoming the justifiable, until it is finally established as the unexceptionable.”

That process is steaming full speed ahead in the related fields of organ transplantation and biotechnology. The only way to stop this dehumanizing agenda is to take notice and push back before it is too late. Some things should ever and always be unthinkable.

I think they still are, but people have to know what is being advocated to ensure that certain lines are never crossed.

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