February 29, 2024

Organ donation and euthanasia make a good team in Ontario

Doctors taking advantage of a new source of organs

There is a startling statistic tucked away in Ontario’s September quarter euthanasia statistics. A total of 519 people were euthanised from July 1 to September 30.

Nothing too surprising.

But of the total euthanised, it appears, from government’s sketchy summary, 30 donated organs. In other words, somehow the euthanising doctor and the transplant surgeons coordinated their efforts so that these people could give their organs to others. The time period is unclear. 

Presumably the donation was not the cause of death, as this is illegal under Canada’s euthanasia legislation. But there is pressure from doctors to change this. A year ago two Ontario physicians and Robert Truog, a bioethicist from Harvard Medical School, published an article in the New England Journal of Medicine listing all the advantages of “organ donor euthanasia”.

It would be necessary to do away with the dead donor rule – that a patient must be dead before donating. In Canada a euthanasia death must be caused by the administration of a “substance”, not by organ retrieval. The law would have to be amended to take account of this medical and ethical development.

This has been bitterly criticised, of course. Last month Dr E. Wesley Ely, of Vanderbilt University, published an opinion piece in the journal Intensive Care Medicine. He argued: “When physicians are participating in a procedure designed to take a person’s life, will patients feel 100% certain that their physician is firmly on the side of healing? What message does it send about the value of every human life when physicians endorse the exchange of one life for another? What effect has it already had on physicians complicit in such death-causing procedures?”

Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge

Creative commons