For the past few years, there has been a sustained propaganda campaign by medical authorities and media outlets to raise awareness about the shortage of available organs as compared to the number of people seeking transplants. And, while politicians have put their their names behind such efforts and urged the public to sign organ donor cards, little has actually happened on the legislative front. In British Columbia, the provincial government began compensating live organ donors for their out-of-pocket medical expenses. Ontario Health Minister George Smitherman has publicly supported the idea, but has not brought in legislation or regulations permitting such a system.
In Ontario, three private member’s bills have been introduced to address the issue, but none have proceeded to a vote. NDP MPP Peter Kormos has pushed a bill that would permit doctors to harvest organs from “brain dead” patients in the absence of clear directive otherwise proscribing doing so. PC MPP Frank Klees wants health cards and drivers’ licenses withheld unless an applicant, when applying for such documents, declares his or her intention (or not) to donate organs.
Opposition to these heavy-handed measures miss the point. There are permissible organ donations and illicit organ donations. They do not entirely depend on whether such “donations” are voluntary; rather, the standard is whether the surgery in which the organs are removed ends up killing the donor.
Dr. Paul A. Byrne, director of neonatology and director of paediatrics at St. Charles Mercy Hospital in Oregon, Oh., has made clear that there are four categories of organ donation. Two are ethical: 1) living individuals who donate non-vital organs – one of their two kidneys, liver graphs, bone marrow – that they can live without after donating and 2) tissue that is not compromised once there is no longer a beating heart – corneas, heart valves, bones, skin, ligaments and tendons that are donated post-mortem.
But there are two forms of organ donation that are always immoral because they result in the death of the donor: those taken from people after “brain death” and so-called “non-heart-beating donors” (NHBD). When vital organs such as the heart, liver, lungs, pancreas or intestine are removed from a patient declared “brain dead,” it is the removal of the organs that kills the patient. The heart was still beating and the blood circulating at the time of the removal surgery – the act that kills the patient. This can never be allowed. Ditto for NHBDs when such patients have normal vital signs and a “functioning brain,” but are still taken off all life support, including a ventilator. Once there is no discernable pulse, the organs are removed – killing the patient.
It is compassionate to want to alleviate the suffering of patients awaiting organs. It may even seem pro-life to do so. In brilliant PR parlance, it is “the gift of life.” But you cannot take the life of one person to give it to another. It is always wrong and must be resisted. As pro-lifers, we cannot support transplants that kill the donor.