Columnist: Government Should Take Organs for Donation, No Opt-Out Allowed

Bioethics   |   Rebecca Taylor   |   Oct 2, 2013   |   2:40PM   |   Washington, DC

I have said many times that we abandon the embryo at our own peril. Once we allow some human organisms to be ripped apart for their cells, then we all start to look more and more like harvestable biological material.

No where is this more apparent than in the debates about organ donation. Donating organs in the event of death used to be considered something that should be completely voluntary and without incentive. But because the demand for organ outweighs the supply, more and more we are hearing that organ donation should be “opt-out” instead of “opt-in” where doctors presume consent unless otherwise specified and family members have no say in the matter.

After all, you are a bag of organs that could be used better elsewhere.

Ted Rall, American columnist and cartoonist, goes one step further and says organ donation should be mandatory, no “opt-out” allowed, and the government should just take organs for those who need them. From “Mandatory Organ Donation“:

On the other hand, it is estimated that 18 people die every day due to a national shortage of organ donations. This crisis can be solved.

Don’t worry: This is not one of those pieces calling for you to consider signing the donor section on the back of your driver’s license. My solution is more radical: When you die, the government should take your organs….

If the government can save 18 people a day by harvesting every available organ, why doesn’t it pass a law making it so?…

About 2.5 million Americans die every year. Most are burned or planted in the ground, completely wasted. Vast numbers of them rot away, their bodies containing potentially lifesaving organs, left intact — or embalmed — for only one reason: Politicians are too cowardly to challenge the ancient idea that there is something sacred in a hunk of flesh.

First of all, of those 2.5 million American deaths every year, only a very small percentage of those would be eligible for organ donation. A patient has to have suffered brain death where their brain is no longer functioning but, with the help of a ventilator to keep oxygen flowing, their heart is still pumping blood keeping their other organs intact.

Does anyone really want a bunch of government employees running around hospitals deciding who is brain dead as who is not?

Even doctors get this wrong. Just ask Caroline Burns who woke up on the operating table as doctors were about to harvest her organs. Or Sam Schmid, a 20 year-old college student who woke up from his coma after doctors declared him brain dead and were prepared to harvest his organs. Or Steven Thorpe, a British teenager that was declared brain dead by four specialists. His parents were approached about organ donation, but they were sure that there was still life left in Steven. They persisted and Steven was reevaluated. Two weeks later he woke from his coma.

How many others like Caroline, Sam or Steven have been misdiagnosed as “brain dead?”



How would Caroline, or Sam, or Steven faired if the government had decided that their organs were better used by someone else? Would the cries of Steven parents have been heard? Or would the decision have ceased to be theirs?

That is the problem with making organ donation mandatory. The assumption really is that your organs are of better use somewhere else. Once brain death is “established” then you become a bag of harvestable biological material, a “hunk of flesh” according to Rall. You are no longer valuable other than for your parts. (Sounds like the plight of the embryo.)

And does anyone really trust the government to make those determinations?

I certainly don’t.