Is Canada heading toward a policy of allowing
terminally ill patients to be killed for body parts?

Special to The Interim

Before the practice of organ donation and transplants began, the definition of death was not very difficult. If a person had no signs of life, if his brain, heart and other organs had ceased to show any activity, he was dead. But in the age of transplants and “miraculous” resuscitation, what constitutes death has become a controversial issue. Increasingly, the need to wait until the patient is no longer using his organs is being overlooked in the rush to get fresh organs to transplant patients. The longer a donor has been dead, the less likely a donated organ will be able to “take” in a recipient’s body.

Coupled with the erosion of the value of life from abortion and the rise of euthanasia, assisted suicide and related “end of life” issues, medical ethics are moving more and more into a dangerous grey area. From less-developed countries, it is becoming more common to hear news reports – horror stories, really – of patients having their organs “harvested” without permission and of poor and marginalized persons being killed for their organs.

Now Canada, always keeping in the forefront of such “developments” in post-modern medical ethics, is considering changing the rules for organ donation to allow organs to be removed after cardiac arrest and once life support has been withdrawn. This has some concerned that terminal patients and the non-terminal disabled will be prematurely “unhooked” in order to procure organs for transplant. Walter Glannon, a clinical ethicist at the Children’s and Women’s Health Centre in Vancouver, said, “The concern is that the removal of organs for transplant will take precedence over the (donor) patient. Life support may be removed prematurely, without going through the medical and ethical protocol.”

The recommendation by the Canadian Council for Donation and Transplantation would have Canada join other countries that are expanding the limits of “ethics” in organ transplants. Dr. Michael DeVita, a critical care physician at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh, quoted in the National Post, says, “It gets worse, when you’re going to withdraw life support and then procure organs. People get more and more concerned that you’re going to be caring for people who are dying inappropriately just to get at their organs.”

The problem is compounded when the definition of “life support” includes food and water, as was the case with Terri Schiavo. In Canada, the medical community considers nutrition and hydration taken by some means other than by mouth, through an abdominal tube for example, to be “extraordinary” means of life support. The practice of passive euthanasia by starvation and dehydration is not uncommon in Canada and the U.S., but it is nearly impossible to obtain reliable statistics on its frequency.

This story originally appeared Sept. 16. at It is reprinted here with permission.