REALity November, 2018 Ottawa, ON
Harvesting Organs Before Death From Euthanasia Patients
When a law is passed to allow physician-assisted suicide, the nation is set on a downhill race to death and inhumanity, without any brakes to stop the descent.
The reality of this is hitting home. Even though assisted suicide has only been the law in Canada for just over two years, the campaign has entered a new stage, in that the “dead donor rule” that a patient must be dead before organs are removed, is now being recommended for revision.
In a horrifying article, in the September 6, 2018, edition of the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), written by two doctors from the University of Western Ontario, Ian Ball, and Robert Sibbald, and a bioethicist, Robert Truog from Harvard University, the dead donor rule is being attacked. The authors argue that since Canada allows physician-assisted suicide, then Canada should also dispense with the dead donor rule i.e. that a patient must be dead before organs are retrieved. This would allow transplant surgeons to have access to fresh organs. This is contrary to normal protocol, which is to wait for several minutes after blood circulation ceases (donations after cardiac arrest) prior to removing organs. But even in this brief space of time, the quality of the organ to be transplanted declines. The authors of this article argue, therefore, that if organs can be removed from a prospective euthanasia patient while he/she is still alive (provided consent has been given) then the organs would be as fresh as possible. The authors thoughtfully suggest that the patients would be anaesthetized before their organs are removed, to avoid any “discomfort”. In other words, rather than wait for the patient’s heart to stop after a lethal injection has been administered by the physician, as is currently done in the Netherlands and Belgium, the removal of the organs, not the lethal injection, would be the direct cause of death.
This would necessitate a change in the Criminal Code of Canada, which currently requires that a euthanasia death must be caused by the administration of a lethal “substance”. Currently, a firewall exists between the staff handling withdrawal of life support following the lethal injection, and the staff handling organ donations. This new proposal would eliminate the need for such a firewall.
The Effect of Eliminating the Dead Donor Rule
Combining euthanasia with organ donation sends a message to vulnerable people that their deaths are of greater social value than their lives. Transplant surgeons, relatives and friends, even Facebook friends, may well encourage such a death, claiming the “good” the death will bring to society. What if a patient seeking euthanasia directs his donation to a family member? The potential for abuse is obvious. This could also be the point that tips the decision for early death for desperately ill patients who feel lonely and unloved but want to seek meaning for their lives by donating their vital organs. One of the attractions, however, for those wishing assisted suicide, is the prospect of dying peacefully surrounded by family and well-wishers. But an organ removal death would take place in a sterile atmosphere of an operating room – not a happy place or situation.
This proposal would also have the effect of changing transplant specialists from being healers, to killers.
The transplant industry generates $20 billion annually, spending over one billion on immunosuppressive drugs and pays transplant surgeons handsomely. Hospitals aren’t left empty-handed either. They receive a “finder’s fee” explained as “administrative costs.” The only ones banned from the money gravy train in organ transplants are the donors and their families.