The harvesting of organs from living patients is nothing new. There are other parts of the world where this is common. In China, a six-year-old boy was found alone in a field. When he was examined, it was found that his eyes had been removed, probably for the corneas.
Another case is reported from the Netherlands concerning an elderly patient who was given a poisoned cup of coffee. When the patient realized something was wrong, the "doctor" persuaded her relatives to restrain her physically while the treatment was completed. At least, that doctor is being prosecuted for her behaviour.
According to a British government report, in 2012, a young girl from Somalia was kidnapped and brought to the UK for the sole purpose of harvesting her organs. She was rescued before she was forced to undergo the "procedure." Child protection organizations have warned that this case was probably not an isolated incident as it is likely that traffickers have smuggled groups of children into the country.
These barbaric practices sound like something from a horror movie. What could be more horrible than close family members recruited to hold down Grannie while she is forced to drink coffee that she knows has been poisoned? Or a young girl having her internal organs forcibly torn from her body to sell to someone desperate to continue his life.
Until November 2016, assisted suicide was illegal in Canada under section 241(b) of the Criminal Code. In 2015, after many years of various legal challenges, the Supreme Court of Canada decided unanimously to allow physician-assisted suicide. Physician-assisted suicide means making lethal means available to the patient to be used when the patient desires it. Voluntary active euthanasia involves the physician carrying out the patient's request, and usually means the injection of a lethal drug. Passive euthanasia is when death occurs when a patient is simply allowed to die. This can be accomplished by withdrawing or withholding treatment, such as switching off a machine that is keeping a patient alive, so that he dies naturally of his disease. "Pulling the plug" as it is sometimes called.
In June 2016, new federal legislation became law creating the conditions for medical assistance in dying in Canada. Under this legislation, medical assistance in dying is legal if the patient is eligible for the procedure and the safeguards are followed. For active euthanasia, four conditions must be met:
1. the patient must be suffering from unbearable physical pain;
2. two physicians or nurses must independently confirm that death is inevitable;
3. death is judged to be drawing near; and
4. the patient must give written consent with two witnesses present.
It is frequently uncertain, however, when death is inevitable or drawing near.
Medical personnel in palliative care units are often surprised when a patient who was thought to be close to death, suddenly recovers and resumes the usual functions of life. On the other hand, patients whom the nursing staff judged cured, relapsed and died. The onset of death is therefore a matter of judgement that is not always accurate.
Someone suffering from "unbearable pain" is not always able to make such an important decision in a rational manner. He may be ready to accept anything that will take away that terrible pain.
Nurses in palliative care state that there is no pain, however severe, that cannot be treated with the appropriate medication, usually morphine or its derivatives. When formerly unbearable pain is eased, the patient can be grateful he was not "put to sleep".
In December 2018, a Canadian Government committee is expected to issue a report that examines making assisted suicide available to young people under 18, psychiatric patients, and consenting adults who have asked they be euthanized if they become incapacitated by illness or disease.
The Court overruled its previous decision from 1993 in the case of Sue Rodriguez, where the same provisions of the Criminal Code were upheld, by a 5-4 majority. Today, the law has made a 180 degree switch in the past 25 years.
Nancy Scheper-Hughes is a medical researcher who has written extensively on childhood trauma. Writing in the University of Chicago periodical Journal of Anthropology for February 1999, she submitted an article titled The Global Traffic in Human Organs. She details the prevalence of organ harvesting and trafficking by middle men for desperate, wealthy recipients. Black market organs are being transplanted in New York, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles up to $150,000 each. She continues by commenting on cooperating American hospitals, complete with surgeons who appear to be ignorant where these organs come from.
It is estimated that 18 people will die every day while waiting for an important "fresh" organ. Just one donor has the ability to save up to eight lives. If someone has the money to pay for it. With great profits to be made from this grisly trade, it is no wonder there is a flourishing black market in selling freshly-harvested body parts from a patient who probably was not aware that his treatment was not to save his life, but to save someone else's.
Statistics for organ harvesting are hard to come by in Canada, but there was one outstanding case of baby Gabriel, discussed in the Hastings Center Report for December 1987. Baby Gabriel was diagnosed as anencephalic -born without a functioning brain - so her doctor had her shipped to Loma Linda, California, where her heart was removed from her tiny body and transplanted into another infant.
There was, and is, controversy about the morality of harvesting needed body parts from anencephalic babies. This is one end of the scale. The other end is how ethical is it to harvest organs from older patients?
In 2017 in the Netherlands, 6,585 people died by euthanasia. What happened to their organs? Canada has yet to achieve comparable figures, but general acceptance of active euthanasia and how to deal with anencephalic infants may, in time, match or surpass this figure.
We cannot escape the view that the human body is no longer regarded as an inviolable entity, but as a profitable source of vital organs to be harvested wherever and whenever they are needed. Despite the safeguards already mentioned, what guarantee will a patient have that he will be able to return home with everything he came with - including his life?