What’s Wrong with the World

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Rushing organ donation for the sake of "ethics"

Via Wesley J. Smith's Secondhand Smoke comes a story that some of you may already have seen:

Organ procurement physicians in Denver have now done heart transplants from babies using the non-heart-beating donation method after waiting only 75 seconds from the time that the infants' hearts stopped beating.

Ironically, an ethics committee recommended that the time period be moved back to seventy-five seconds from five minutes (another time period that is sometimes used in such procurements) on the grounds that this would be more "ethical." Why? Because otherwise the hearts might not be as fresh for the recipients.

If it seems to you that the far greater ethical concern is that the babies might not really have been dead after only 75 seconds of no heartbeat, you have a good point. Consider this story of a man revived after forty-five minutes of no normal heartbeat, a time during which he received only heart massage. Or consider the statement in the same story that a person is irreversibly dead who has suffered cardiac arrest and not revived after thirty minutes of heart massage. Or consider the admission quoted here of Dr. Truog, an advocate of throwing out the dead donor rule altogether and just taking organs from living people, that donors in the non-heart-beating scenarios might be resuscitated.

I can't help wondering myself even about the normal protocol that the transplant physicians are not even supposed to be in the room until death is declared by the patient's own doctor--while the patient is still deemed a patient and not a corpse. I suppose it's possible that, even with only 75 seconds to work with, they were outside of the room. Just. But one tries to imagine the lecture to the treating physician--you know, the one who was supposed to be the doctor for the living newborn baby who was giving the heart? "Now, look here. The ethics committee says we have to get this heart 75 seconds after it stops beating. Don't mess around. After you take the donor off life support and the heart stops, the stop-watch is ticking. Hurry up and pronounce death, call us in here, and let's move, move, move."

The stark fact is that it isn't surprising that the ethics committee should have been more concerned about getting fresh hearts for the recipients than about avoiding taking organs from live infants. The infant donors were "going to die anyway" and their parents had "consented." That, increasingly, is all that some people think is required.

Comments (5)

This is yet more evidence of the moral bankruptcy of consequentialism (utilitarianism), when unchecked by proper deontology.


By the way, if you have any specific citations of people who treat deontologism rather than utilitarianism as per se "religious" (and hence out of bounds for public argumentation) send 'em on to me. I know it's an idea in the air, but I'd love to have a money quote for an article I'm working on.

The doctrine of consent. It's killing us.


That is a seriously creepy story.

This is a great blog. I've in most cases been a fan of this kind of thinking. I'm hoping that this sparks a revival of this style of thinking along the same lines.

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