Treatment Concerns - Definitions / Living Wills / Palliative Care / Terminal or Excessive Sedation / Organ Donation / DCD or NHBD / Hospice / POLST / DNR

Worse Than Fiction: Euthanasia on the Rise (2015)

[Comment: The idea of using assisted suicide/euthanasia victims for organ harvesting is not a new one. It was brought up in 1998 by Jack Kevorkian when he offered the kidneys of one of his assisted suicide victims to organ transplantation organizations. Note this quote: “In an interview with the Tribune before the most recent controversy, Kevorkian promoted the transplant idea and his “obitorium” proposal for a national chain of hospital-type settings where consenting assisted suicides and prisoners awaiting execution would agree to medical tests and removal of organs while alive and under anesthesia.”  (Source: “Kevorkian Controversy Sheds Light On A Problem-Removal Of Suicide’s Kidneys Shows National Need For Organ Donors” by Ellen Warren. Chicago Tribune. June 10, 1998, Online at )

Despite this and the fact that many of his victims were found to have no terminal illness , Kevorkian became a “hero” to many, culminating in an award-winning 2010 movie starring Al Pacino called “You Don’t Know Jack” and people opposing assisted suicide/euthanasia ultimately called extremists.
Unfortunately, when feelings and bias rather than facts or principles are allowed to drive ethics, the unthinkable soon becomes inevitable. N. Valko RN]

If you believe in the sacredness of human life from conception to natural death, it’s time to watch and pray for those at the end of life, not just the beginning.

In his novel, Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro tells the story of three young people—Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy—who are repeatedly told, with their classmates at boarding school, that they’re special.

But it’s not until they leave school that they learn why: They are clones whose sole purpose for existence is to serve as organ donors.

Wikipedia describes Ishiguro’s award-winning novel as “dystopian,” that is, one that depicts a “society, usually fictional, that is in some important way undesirable or frightening.”

A colleague of mine pointed me to a recent story out of the UK that illustrates why dystopias are only “usually fictional.”

At the 21st European Conference on Thoracic Surgery, a paper presented by a group of Belgian doctors reported on “Lung Transplantation with Grafts Recovered From Euthanasia Donors.”

Yes, you read that correctly.

According to the abstract, between January 2007 and December 2012, six patients received pulmonary grafts using tissue from euthanized donors.

The abstract states that the euthanasia was carried out “in accordance with state legislation and approval by Ethics Committee.”

The “donors” were described as suffering “from an unbearable neuromuscular . . . or neuropsychiatric . . . disorder” and had expressed an “explicit wish to donate organs.”

So as not to seem too ghoulish, “Euthanasia was executed by an independent physician in a room adjacent to the operating room in the absence of the retrieval team.”

Or, as Wesley J. Smith summed it up, “One set of doctors killed the patient, stepped out of the room, and another set of doctors entered for the harvest.”

The Belgian doctors’ hope is that “More euthanasia donors are to be expected with more public awareness.”

But as Smith put it, “In a better world, increased public awareness would cause universal public revulsion.”

Unfortunately, we don’t live in that “better world.” As long as it’s voluntary, we hear, what’s the big deal? It can help others, they say.

As Biola professor Scott Rae pointed out a few months back on BreakPoint this Week, euthanasia is no longer voluntary in the Netherlands, one of the first countries to embrace it.

Today, they have what’s called kryptonasia, where doctors make the decision of when a patient’s life should be taken, without input from the patient or the family.

As Wesley Smith concludes, “It’s sackcloth and ashes time.”

In Belgium, where euthanasia is commonplace, double euthanasia is also catching on. Recently we told you about identical twins insisting on being euthanized after learning they would go blind and lose their independence.

More recently, a couple that had been married for 64 years took their lives together surrounded by their family whom, it was said “supported their decision 100 percent.”

When did we become people that support suicide 100 percent?

Smith writes that, with one possible exception, he “can think of nothing more dangerous than making mentally ill and despairing disabled people believe their deaths have greater value than their lives.”

That possible exception is “Having a society accept the idea that it can benefit at the expense of people in desperate need of care–and whose care is very expensive.”

That, I’m afraid, is where we are heading.

Two Oxford professors, writing in the journal Bioethics, described a way to facilitate this “benefit.”

They asked “Why should surgeons have to wait until the patient has died?”

Instead, doctors should “anesthetize the patient and remove organs, including the heart and lungs. Brain death would follow removal of the heart.”

This would increase both the number and quality of available organs.

While Never Let Me Go is fiction, what I’m describing is fact. Ishiguro’s tale makes the immorality of what’s being done to Kathy and her friends clear.

But doctors and ethicists want us to think it’s a good thing in real life.

Sackcloth and ashes, indeed.

[June 12, 2015, John Stonestreet,
Editor’s note. This Breakpoint commentary appeared at]