What’s Wrong with the World

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No matter how bad you think it is

...It's worse.

From the United Kingdom comes this latest: Women carrying children with anencephaly and some unnamed other said-to-be-fatal birth defects who decide to abort their children will be "supported" to carry their babies to term so that the state can harvest the babies' organs when they die shortly after birth.

No, I'm not making that up. It's real. Read all about it here, here, and here.

We can only hope that they will be allowed to die naturally instead of just being killed directly by organ harvesting. Even that isn't entirely clear. For example, there's this:

[O]nce doctors had certified the infant dead, its vital organs would be removed.

Um, wait, we skipped the part where the baby actually, y'know, dies. Are they just going to declare them dead because because?

In some cases, where donation has been agreed, babies could be certified brain dead but their bodies kept alive by artificial ventilation. Surgeons could then remove organs from these so-called ‘heartbeat babies’ when they are fresh, maximising what can be used and the chance of successful transplant.

Wait, wait, perhaps you didn't know, Mr. Reporter, but a child with anencephaly is not ipso facto brain dead in the medico-legal sense. He has a working brain stem until he actually, y'know, dies. Naturally. What you wrote could be read as saying that these would just be declared to have suffered whole-brain death even if, er, they hadn't.

But let's set aside that particular worry for the moment and consider the proposal in its broadest terms. The big, ethical, professional thing that is being done in all of this is just this: They are going to make sure to wait to encourage the mother not to have an abortion until after she has definitely decided to have an abortion.

Notably, the option of donation would not be raised until the mother had definitively decided to have an abortion.

Are you confused yet? Let me explain: A woman's baby is diagnosed with what doctors like to call a "condition incompatible with life." That would be something like anencephaly or perhaps a diaphragmatic hernia that has allowed the intestines to come up into the lung cavity and has prevented the lungs from developing, or maybe Trisomy 18. The medical workers, being oh-so-professional, don't want to influence the woman yet one way or another about whether or not to carry the baby to term. Once she decides to kill her baby, then they raise the following option: Don't kill your baby right now. Just put up with it for a while longer, gestate the baby to term, for the sake of its usable organs. For the greater good.

Mind you, that's considered okay. Trying to argue a woman out of an abortion decision is apparently hunky dory so long as it isn't being done for a pro-life reason. So long as we aren't suggesting to her that she, perhaps, make use of neonatal hospice, or give birth in order to have the opportunity to hold her baby after it is born, or to be humane. All of that would apparently be terribly unprofessional.

But trying to talk her out of aborting her baby right now so that he can be treated as a commodity, as a source of organs, so that the birth can be maximally medicalized to make sure that the baby's organs are fresh when they are harvested, that's perfectly okay.

This is horrifyingly illogical on so many levels. Let's just count a few of them.

1) If nothing inappropriate is going to be done to the baby after he is born (hint: like killing him for his organs), then why is the idea of donating the baby's organs going to be raised only with women who have decided to abort rather than with women who have decided to carry to term? If the story in The Express is accurate, women who initially have no intention of aborting and who never say that they want an abortion will not be "supported" in order to donate the child's organs. Is this a kind of admission that babies whose organs are to be donated are marked for death in a way that babies who are not going to be donors are not?

I can think of one possible reason, and this needs to be known: Death in connection with organ donation is always highly medicalized. The slow, natural "glide" into death is bad for usable organs. This is true for older people as well and has been brought up as an argument against the aggressive push for families to agree to donation. If the body slowly and naturally shuts down, various organs may suffer ischemia. What the organ collectors want is a body that is operating as fully as possible right up until collection. Hence, the shortage of organs is due in part to increased head protection and safety gadgets preventing catastrophic head injuries in an accident. This is because catastrophic head injuries can present precisely the cases where the patient isn't dying slowly and naturally but rather is put on a ventilator and maybe his brain functions cease sufficiently that he passes (fails?) the tests for "whole-brain death," but meanwhile everything is getting oxygenated.

A baby who is just slowly breathing more and more shallowly while his mother holds him and eventually, quietly, breathes his last, is generally not a good candidate for organ donation. He's treated as a patient. A human being, A dying human being, but human nonetheless. Not a source.

2) Why is it okay to try to talk a woman out of an abortion for pro-harvesting reasons but not for pro-life reasons?

3) Why are the "abortion choice" fanatics not worried that this will put undue pressure on the woman not to abort? Isn't that the sort of thing they are supposed to be all concerned about?

4) What does "supported" mean? Does it maybe include $$? Are women going to be paid to gestate babies for organs?

But beyond all that, let's cut to the chase: This makes the cannibalistic nature of vital organ harvesting almost unavoidably clear. These children are to be commodified after being deemed unfit for human life and for treatment as human beings. They are going to be treated as organ factories, nothing more, pure and simple.

Finally, note to semi-pro-lifers: If you didn't know what you thought about babies missing their upper cerebral cortex and whether they have a right to life or not, it's time to improve your game and get ready to defend their humanity. Because the other guys are getting ready to keep them alive for a while and then cut them up for distribution.

Related: Read the hate speech--I do not hesitate to call it that--in this 1992 article concerning "Baby Teresa." Her parents tried to have whole-brain death requirements changed so that she could be declared dead after being born anencephalic, so that her organs could be donated. Instead, the courts held firm (for once), and she lived nine days and was held and cared for and died naturally. But her organs (aw, shucks) were unusable because she had been allowed to live and die naturally. One particularly charming organ procurement specialist quoted in the story says, "She better fit the category of benign tumor, rather than human being. She was a ball of tissue. The question is whether she existed at all."

Comments (10)

I know that whenever I click on a Lydia McGrew article dealing with abortion and our current utilitarian culture, I will be depressed at the end, and this article is no different. This is one of the fruits of "choice". How depressing, but it is good to be reminded of the evil in our modern world.

Lydia, you have a stronger stomach than I do in terms of being able to view evil and describe it.

I have a few "ulterior motives" for describing this particular evil. One is that there are actually some people who are kinda-sorta pro-life but have always been ambivalent about anencephalic infants. Philosophers seem especially vulnerable to "personhood theory" coming back and rearing its ugly head. Highlighting this sort of thing is meant to challenge that--oh, okay, you were considering saying that anencephalic infants aren't persons? Is it okay to take their organs, then?

Another reason is that I think this kind of thing highlights the deep problems with vital organ procurement. The more I think about it, the more convinced I become that they are going to kill these babies for their organs and not make a good-faith effort first to ascertain whole-brain death, including the cessation of brain-stem function. I can't prove it. They almost certainly won't admit it. But the case of Baby Teresa back in 1992 is interesting, because it was quite clear there that if the standards of "whole-brain death" were adhered to, she could _not_ be a donor. So why does the UK think it has some bright new idea about using these babies as donors if it is going to adhere to those standards? And I think it's important for Christians who, by and large, have been on-board with the vital organ donation program to start to get informed and question what really occurs. This is as good a place as any to start. By asking people to consider the fact that these babies can't be left to do a "slow glide" into death or their organs would be unusable. What does that say about the "I agree to be an organ donor" check-box on your own driver's license or that of your loved one?

She better fit the category of benign tumor, rather than human being. She was a ball of tissue. The question is whether she existed at all."

This sort of person is why a former coworker of mine used to say that there are a lot of people who should be encouraged to take a one way trip to Saudi Arabia and Iran so they scream blasphemies from a roof top.

Mike, the logical consequence of that ghoul's worldview is to deny his own existence.

I don't think that follows from his occasional desire to certain people like that organ harvester go to a place where they can get a taste of their worldview good and hard.

DeGaulle's is the more interesting comment.

It is possible to make up a worldview that includes yourself and others you want to include in the category of "real persons" and that excludes other humans you don't want to include. I suppose one can say that this doesn't logically require the denial of one's own existence.

However, ultimately the arbitrariness of it comes to light. Personhood theory is fundamentally arbitrary, because the categories it invokes (e.g., being able at this present moment to think consciously) are not what one might call "natural kinds." That category does not "cut reality at the joints." And certainly the practice of dividing human beings into the "real" and the "unreal" persons has a strong tendency to metastasize, which may very well catch that theorist one day. We can hope for repentance before that day comes.

It doesn't just make some people real and some unreal, but confuses the distinction between humans and animals by moving from the Imago Dei to cognition. There are species with real cognitive capabilities like African Grey Parrots and Gorillas. Personhood theory requires that they be considered persons on a rudimentary level. Just think, voting rights for apes. (The average silver back would probably make a better President than Trump or Hillary; more libertarian and hawkish on community defense at the same time)

Good post, Lydia. I won't link-bomb your site, but I wrote an article on a related topic, fetus farming, for Christian Research Journal back in 2007. You can google "Betting the Farm" to find it. In short, it's happening before birth as well as after. Keep up the good work.

Feel free to post the link, Scott, and I will be very interested to read it.

By the way, someone I was having a brief e-mail exchange with about this has opined that it is still too unclear what the UK policy will be to comment on it with any confidence.

I disagree. In the post I explicitly distinguished between what remains unknown--namely, precisely how the newborn babies with these conditions will be treated if they have been marked out as donors--and what is known. What *is* known, what the NHS is stating _explicitly_, is that they will train nurses and other medical workers in how to try to convince women not to abort these babies *so that* the babies' organs can be harvested after birth. They are absolutely clear that they will be attempting to convince women to carry to term as gestators for usable organs from these babies--in other words, for an entirely utilitarian reason related to the usefulness of the babies' organs.

This is wrong *in and of itself* regardless of precisely how the donation and the deaths of the babies after birth are handled. It is intrinsically a way of commodifying both the children and their mothers' gestational capacities.

This sorta reminds of Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go.

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