Dead donor rule for organ transplants is being challenged

Back in 1995, Pope Saint John Paul II took note of a tragic flaw and tendency in the modern culture of developed nations in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae (Latin: “The Gospel of Life”):

Here we are faced with one of the more alarming symptoms of the “culture of death”, which is advancing above all in prosperous societies, marked by an attitude of excessive preoccupation with efficiency and which sees the growing number of elderly and disabled people as intolerable and too burdensome. These people are very often isolated by their families and by society, which are organized almost exclusively on the basis of criteria of productive efficiency, according to which a hopelessly impaired life no longer has any value.

While we, here at RedState, often focus on the more obvious features of the “culture of death” — abortion and euthanasia — the real enemy is utilitarianism: that impulse that says human life has no intrinsic worth beyond the material resources in can produce measured against the material resources it consumes.

Though we are making gains in the fight against abortion, the next battlefield is euthanasia. We are mostly familiar with the concept of euthanasia. On the surface it seems benign. A terminally ill Brittany Maynard deciding to end her life on her terms (as wrong as I personally believe that decision to be) seamlessly transitions into the situation we find in Belgium and the Netherlands where suicide has become a standard medical procedure and some studies indicate up to one half of all a instances of assisted suicide are carried out without the express consent of the “patient.” And it is common for the organs of these euthanized patients to be harvested before the patient is quite dead:

In Belgium, organs have been harvested for several years from patients killed by lethal injections administered by doctors. And in the Netherlands, two leading medical institutions have drafted national guidelines regulating similar donations from persons euthanized there, Mercatornet reported Dec. 1.

Prominent euthanasia opponent Wesley Smith condemned the development in a Nov. 26 entry at his Human Exceptionalism blog. Such state-sanctioned actions, he contended, have the effect of persuading disabled or mentally ill persons that “their deaths have greater value than their lives.”

Commented Smith, “Belgium and Netherlands are off a vertical moral cliff. Logic dictates this is where we will go, too, if we decide to follow them into the abyss.”

In the age of Obamacare, this death as a therapeutic option has come to permeate the health care industry… to include doctors and nurses.

For example, this:

Her doctor offered hope in the new chemotherapy drug Tarceva, but the Oregon Health Plan sent her a letter telling her the cancer treatment was not approved.

Instead, the letter said, the plan would pay for comfort care, including “physician aid in dying,” better known as assisted suicide.

and this:

Since the spread of his prostate cancer, 53-year-old Randy Stroup of Dexter, Ore., has been in a fight for his life. Uninsured and unable to pay for expensive chemotherapy, he applied to Oregon’s state-run health plan for help.

Lane Individual Practice Association (LIPA), which administers the Oregon Health Plan in Lane County, responded to Stroup’s request with a letter saying the state would not cover Stroup’s pricey treatment, but would pay for the cost of physician-assisted suicide.

A little known front in the fight for life is protecting the lives of patients who are on life support and not expected to recover from having their organs harvested:

Family members of a 26-year-old injured in a car accident are arguing that doctors removed the young woman’s organs too soon, MyFoxDFW.com reported.

“But she still has heart and lung functions,” family member Juan Martinez told MyFoxDFW.com. “They took her off life support, and she was still breathing.”

While organ harvesting of “brain dead” patients is allowed, “brain death” is a much more subjective call than most doctors would like to admit:

A Syracuse, N.Y. hospital is facing $22,000 in fines due to improper handling of patients, including one “dead” patient who opened her eyes as doctors were about to remove her organs.

Patient Colleen S. Burns was reportedly admitted into St. Joseph’s emergency department in 2009 after overdosing on Xanax, Benadryl and a muscle relaxant. Hospital notes obtained by the Post-Standard revealed that the doctors thought she had undergone “cardiac death.” After doctors consulted with the family, they agreed to withdraw life support and donate her organs.

What actually happened was that Burns was in a deep coma from her overdose, and did not have irreversible brain damage.

and:

Even patients who spend years in a coma-like state have come fully back to consciousness. Patricia White Bull of Albuquerque, New Mexico, was unresponsive for 16 years after suffering a lack of oxygen while giving birth to her son Mark, the Associated Press (AP) reported.

On Christmas Eve 1999, while nurses were fixing her bed, she suddenly said, “Don’t do that,” according to the AP. By early January she was able to speak clearly and visit with her four children. “I just went up to her and gave her a hug, and she gave me a hug back,” her oldest child Cindi told the Albuquerque Journal. “It was the first time she had ever hugged back. It was scary at first. It was overwhelming emotionally.”

As hospitals become squeezed on the one end, that of providing services (“squeezed” and “end” were not references to rape, just for the information of the radical feminists reading), and have a very lucrative product to offer on the other (harvested organs), the pressure is going to increase to make organ harvesting much more routine than today and with fewer procedural safeguards.

For instance, in a recent paper by “medical ethicist” Dr. Michael Nair-Collins, a case is made for abandoning the “brain death rule” because “brain death” doesn’t exist. Via the National Catholic Register:

Nair-Collins justifies harvesting organs from living persons, in part, by attacking the legitimacy of the concept of “brain death” that is utilized in some cases to define a person as dead even though some basic life functions remain operative.

“Patients who have been accurately diagnosed with ‘brain death’ according to accepted standards are able to engage in a large variety of integrative, feedback-driven biological functions that work together to maintain the internal physiologic stability for the organism as a whole and can do so over very long periods of time,” Nair-Collins told the Register.

“This includes things like getting a fever in response to an infection, healing wounds, regulating the amount of salt and water in the blood, absorbing nutrients through the gut and generating waste products and exchanging oxygen and carbon dioxide through the lungs,” he added. “Some of these patients also show increased blood pressure and heart rate in response to surgical incision.  And, finally, more dramatic examples include sexual maturation in children and gestation of a fetus in pregnant women. … For these reasons, many scholars, including myself, have concluded that ‘brain-dead’ patients are biologically alive.”

If this scientific criticism of brain-death diagnoses is accurate, then it follows that organ removal causes the biological death of the donor.

“In other words, we do not follow the dead-donor rule in practice now,” Nair-Collins added.

But stopping the procurement of organs from “brain-dead” donors, on the grounds that they are really still alive, would exacerbate the organ shortage for transplant, he said. So, he said, doctors alternatively could “make exceptions to the dead-donor rule … but to explicitly acknowledge that organ donation causes the biological death of these patients.”

The same study purports to show that 76% of Americans who would donate organs agree that diagnosis of irreversible coma is sufficient cause to turn a hospital into a the human equivalent of a chop-shop.

We are in dangerous times. Our society no longer defaults to saving life. Life, instead of a precious gift, has become a mere commercial commodity. Infants killed in utero are used as biofuels, unused human embryos are available for experimentation and the extraction of stem cells, the infirm can be legally euthanized, and on the horizon is the probability that a hospital administrator, not your family, will decide when to pull the plug on you and if you should be cut up for parts on the way out.