Sunday, 22 January 2012

At what price?

It’s what every parent dreads: the arrival of the police at the door, with bad news about your child.

‘She was on a caving trip from University and there’s been accident.  A flash flood has caused a small rockfall, and one student is trapped in a narrow passage.  Your daughter is behind her, and there is no way to get her out.  The student in front of her is in a bad way, with a spinal injury, and can’t be moved without risk to her life.  But we can keep her alive at least for a while, with food and water.  But your daughter simply can’t be reached, so will not hold out for long.  I’m sorry.  The tragedy is that there’s no chance of the student who is blocking the passage living.  She’s on borrowed time and heavily sedated.  The only way we could save your daughter is actually to kill the student in front of her.  And even though we know she’s not going to survive, we obviously can’t do that.’

Obviously; and rightly.

None of this has happened, of course: so what is this about?

This morning I heard an exchange on the radio (the Sunday Programme, I think) about organ donation and presumed consent.  For balance, they had someone from each side of the debate; that is each side of the 'presumed consent' debate.  But both were clear their goals were the same: to increase the number of organ donors.

I am against presumed (= involuntary) consent - for the obvious reasons.

Further, for me, consent is meaningless if uninformed; but how may people know that when they donate a vital organ, it will be taken from them while their heart is still beating?

Finally, I am against the whole business of vital organ donation: that is the removal of organs, whose removal will cause the death of the donor.  Non-vital donation is fine and noble: the donor will live on healthily.  But vital organs can only be donated by living patients: once the heart stops beating, they deteriorate too quickly.  So medics have had to re-define 'death' to justify taking organs from living donors.  I have blogged about this before, at more length, here.

And also about the case of the ‘dead’ donor who woke up just in time here.

But Ben, Ben, if it was your child who needed a new heart...!

That’s why I started this post with the caving story.  If my daughter were trapped behind someone, even if they were dying, I would not sanction their being murdered to save my child.  Likewise, I would not accept the premature killing, even of an (apparently) dying patient so that my child could live longer.  Indeed, the medics should never put me in the position to make such a choice.  One of the tragic things about the retreat from proper Medical Ethics in favour of a utilitarian culture of abortion, cloning, embryo experimentation, euthanasia, transplanting organs from living patients etc, is the corruption of the medical profession.

Death is not as bad as sin…



blondpidge said...

Yes well said. I have been uncomfortable about organ donation for years. The problem is that the Vatican and even Pope Benedict XVI has urged the faithful to be generous and talked about the gift of organ donation, from what I recall.

Ben Trovato said...

Yes; but there is legitimate (and indeed meritorious) organ donation, and illegitimate (and therefore sinful) donation. I assume that the Holy Father is praising legitimate donation.

Legitimate donation is the generous gift of an organ (or part thereof) without which the donor can continue to live a healthy life; as I understand it a kidney, or part of a liver can be donated in this way, for example.

However removing a heart will clearly render life impossible for the donor. However, the doctors cannot wait till the heart stops beating, as it deteriorates too rapidly. So heart donation involves killing the donor; and is therefore, I believe, illegitimate for a Catholic.

Amette said...

"...vital organs can only be donated by living patients: once the heart stops beating, they deteriorate too quickly."

I have always suspected this - thank you for confirming it for me.