“We’re so hungry for organs right now that we are pushing all the limits.”
These were the words of intensive care physician and transplant pulmonologist Dr Wes Ely when speaking about the latest frontier in organ transplantation. According to MedPage Today:
“They're allowing terminal patients to die, then restarting their hearts while clamping off blood flow to their brains. The procedure allows the surgeons to inspect and remove organs from warm bodies with heartbeats.”
“In short, the patient is pronounced dead according to cardiac criteria, then is made to be brain dead, and then is resuscitated. The obvious ethical issue is this: if the patient can be revived, how could he have been dead?”
Some argue this blurring of the lines is necessary to increase the supply of organs for transplant, but others can see the ethical questions it raises and are calling for caution.
The problem with using the increased demand for organs as justification for tinkering with what it means to declare someone dead is that those close to death are given fewer and fewer safeguards.
“Why does it matter if they are going to die anyway?” is the mentality.
It matters a great deal.
Using the need for resources – whether they be organs, hospital beds, or health care funds – to reduce the protections available for those at the end of life is a dangerous mentality.
It is one that needs to be guarded against at every stage it is presented, whether it is organ donation, aged or palliative care, euthanasia or assisted suicide. Because vulnerable people deserve better.