“The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends, and where the other begins?” —Edgar Allan Poe
Recently, I shared with you our concern about the state of organ harvesting in American hospitals. I told you about the trend among some bioethics experts to move away from the “dead donor” rule. But there’s more.
According to a 2015 study published in the Journal of Medical Ethics, people are on board with having their organs cut out even while they are still alive.
The study’s authors found that 85% of those surveyed were willing to donate their organs—and 76% of those people “agreed that they would donate in the scenario of irreversible coma with organ removal causing death. There appears to be public support for organ donation in a scenario explicitly described as violating the dead donor rule.”
I just wonder how many of them are aware that sometimes people recover from an “irreversible” brain injury.
A few years ago, I received a call from the fiancé of T.L.,* a thirty-two-year old woman who was unresponsive after suffering a heart attack. Doctors said she had an “irreversible” brain injury and transferred her to hospice care without food.
I started looking for a local attorney to intervene. Two days later, the fiancé called again and said that T.L. was starting to talk. She said she was hungry and wanted a “sausage breakfast sandwich,” but the hospice would not change the protocol. While she received hydration through an IV, she was denied nutrition. T.L.’s mother insisted her daughter “would not want to live this way” and refused to authorize treatment. Plus, T.L. was a registered organ donor, and her mother thought T.L.’s death could benefit other patients.
We sued the hospice provider and the court ordered T.L. to be transferred to hospital care for full treatment. When I visited her a month after her injury, she was well on her way to making a full recovery.
Life Legal has since seen numerous similar cases where patients diagnosed with an “irreversible” brain injury regained consciousness.
I always wondered why hospice would bother to provide hydration in cases like this. Why force someone to endure the interminable torture of being starved to death?
I recently posed this question to a physician and her response horrified me.
Hydration is supplied only to keep the organs suitable for harvest.
Patients like T.L. are issued a “Do Not Resuscitate” (DNR) order before their nutrition is withheld. Starvation will eventually trigger a cardiac event at which point the patient is prepared for organ harvesting. Because the patient is not allowed to be resuscitated, doctors stand by and wait out the obligatory 2-5 minute “no touch” period and then the patient’s organs are removed. This is called Controlled Cardiac/Circulatory Death or CCCD.
As if this weren’t bad enough, an increasingly vocal cadre of physicians and so-called “ethicists” suggest that even this process falls short because the “no touch” period can render the heart unsuitable for transplant. These enthusiasts argue for the wholesale abolition of the dead donor rule in order to increase the supply of organs.
Life Legal affirms that killing a person through organ donation is an immoral act, and we ardently fight on behalf of our clients to uphold the sanctity of every human life, regardless of injury or disability.