The harvesting of organs from living patients is nothing new. There are parts of the world where this is common. China is especially known for its practice of extracting organs, often from unwilling or unknowing victims. For example, recently a missing six-year-old boy was found alone in a field. Upon examination, it was found that his eyes had been removed, probably for the corneas.[1] 

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."[2] 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 for this purpose.

These barbaric practices sound like scenes from a horror movie, however with the advent of legalized euthanasia in Canada and other parts of the Western World, perhaps they are closer to us than we realize.

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 occurs when a patient is denied basic treatment, such as food or hydration, that eventually causes the death of the patient. In these cases, the withholding of treatment is what causes death, not the disease or medical situation itself.  

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 medical staff judged to be cured, relapsed and died. The onset of death is as a matter of judgement, 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 almost 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 is grateful not to have been "put to sleep".  

In December 2018, a 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 of 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 patient probably not aware that their treatment was not to save their own life, but 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 of the spectrum is the harvesting of organs from older patients preparing for euthanasia. 

In 2017 in the Netherlands, 6,585 people died by euthanasia. What happened to their organs? Canada is on its way to achieving comparable figures, and the general acceptance of active euthanasia and the use anencephalic infants may, in time, match or surpass this figure.

 If you are skeptical about the connection between euthanasia and the harvesting of organs, just read the words of Julie Allard and Marie-Chantal Fortin, bioethicists at the University of Montreal, who argued just last year that:

 “MAID (medical aid in dying) has the potential to provide additional organs available for transplantation. Accepting to procure organ donation after MAID is a way to respect the autonomy of patients, for whom organ donation is an important value. Organ donation after MAID would be ethically acceptable if the patient who has offered to donate is competent and not under any external pressure to choose MAID or organ donation”.[3]

We cannot escape the view that the human body is no longer regarded as an inviolable entity, but is too often seen as a profitable resource for vital organs.

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?    

 

 


[1] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/reading-between-the-headlines/201311/body-snatchers-organ-harvesting-profit

[2] Ibid

[3] https://www.bioedge.org/bioethics/canadian-bioethicists-call-for-organ-donor-euthanasia/12146

 photo credit: verchmarco Medical Costs - A stethoscope with banknotes in the pocket of a pair of jeans via photopin (license)