Human Exceptionalism

They Still Really Want to Kill for Organs

I have been warning about this for years: Here’s the game that is afoot.  Some among the same sector that once assured a nervous culture that vital organs are only procured from the truly dead, are now saying it was a ruse all along. Understand, this isn’t an ethical call to pull back from harvesting the organs from the supposedly alive, but rather, to expand the categories of patients who can be harvested to those who are uncontroversially alive.

The latest example for doing away with what is known as the “dead donor rule” comes out of a paper in the American Journal of Bioethics, as reported in Canada’s National PostFrom the story:

They advocate replacing the current “dead-donor rule” with a policy that educates the public about the true nature of patients used in transplant, obtains informed consent — and ensures the donor does not suffer during the organ harvesting. Doctors should abandon the “dangerously misleading” policy of having to declare donors dead before their organs can be extracted for transplant, and adopt a more honest policy that acknowledges some patients may still be technically alive, Canadian and Spanish experts suggest in a provocative new commentary. “Because there is a general assumption that dead individuals cannot be harmed, veneration of the dead-donor rule is dangerously misleading,” they wrote. “Ultimately, what is important for the protection and respect of potential donors is not to have a death certificate signed, but rather to be certain they are beyond suffering and to guarantee that their autonomy is respected.”

This isn’t a new concept–and for those who are paying attention to the arguments that occur in the professional literature and at symposia–it is hardly shocking.  The organ shortage has for years caused some to push for treating human beings as if we can be considered mere natural resources.  Some call the push “redefining death,” to make it a sociological construct rather than a biological understanding.  In this view, a diagnoses of persistent vegetative state would constitute death–even though wrong 40% of the time.  Others, as these advocates, more candidly propose doing away with the need to be dead altogether, wanting to focus on consent, which would permit many categories of living patients to be killed for organs–perhaps even (although these advocates don’t say it, but others have) in conjunction with suicides or executions.

All of this raises an obvious question: If they the organ transplant community) were lying to us before about dead being dead, why should we trust them?  Indeed, if they are right, we are morally and ethically obliged to stop organ harvesting of those who remain among the living, not the other way around.

But I don’t think they are right.  I still believe that properly diagnosed and with proper protocols, the current system is ethical  And indeed, there is some saluatory pushback against this very bad proposal:

Some experts call the proposal a theoretical argument that has little foundation in reality, but that could seriously hurt the ongoing struggle to recruit potential organ donors. “In the overwhelming majority of cases, the concept of death is easy, obvious and not really subject to any complex interpretation. It’s very clear,” said Dr. Andrew Baker, medical director of the Trillium Gift of Life Network, which oversees Ontario’s transplant system. “They’re dead, you can see it, there is no return of anything

Killing for organs and providing interventions for the still-living patientst that aren’t therapeutic–but merely intended to preserve organs–treats human beings as so many corn crops ripe for the harvest.  Not only does that violate the essential tenets of human exceptionalism, but will utterly decimate the public’s trust in organ donation.  Indeed, pass this proposal into law and that sound you hear will be people tearing up their organ donor cards.

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