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A “Plum to Society” — Death Procedure with Organ Harvesting

organ harvesting

Back in 1993, I warned in my first anti-euthanasia column, published in Newsweek, that once killing became accepted as a solution to human suffering, eventually it would lead to conjoining the death procedure with organ harvesting “as a plum to society.”

“Alarmist!” my critics cried. “Slippery slope” purveyor, they sniffed.

No. Prescient. In Netherlands and Belgium, conjoining euthanasia and organ harvesting is now a fact on the ground — just as I warned — and there is talk of permitting that same approach in Canada.

One of the most alarming aspects of this radical change in transplant ethics has been the shrugging silence from professional transplant organizations. Now, the idea of conjoined killing and harvesting is being presented positively in the media as a splendid way of ending the organ shortage.

That’s certainly the general sense of a story published by the Martha Henriques, science reporter for the International Business Times. From “Why Don’t More People Who Choose Euthanasia Donate Their Organs?”:

One of the main reasons that people who choose euthanasia do not donate organs is the setting in which they die. “The most important reason is that people would get euthanised in the hospital. They can’t die at home quietly with the family and the family doctor,” study author Ernest van Heurn of Emma Children’s Hospital AMC and the VU University medical centre, the Netherlands, told IBTimes UK.

“But there are solutions for that. What you can do — but only at the explicit request of a person who wants euthanasia — is to get sedation at home with the family, and then the family has the opportunity to stay at home while the patient is taken to the hospital and there the euthanasia is done.”

Notice, there is no discussion of applying suicide prevention to people who ask for euthanasia. No, the emphasis is on finding ways to help people who decide to be killed to come to the organ donation decision.

Here’s what Oxford bioethicist Julian Savulescu told Henriques:

But offering people the option to donate their organs after death can be done in an ethical way if the two practices of donation and euthanasia are kept firmly separate, he said. These difficult conversations needn’t be done by the main doctor who is caring for the patient and with whom the patient has discussed euthanasia, he said.

“This is a very important option to give people who have requested euthanasia. It’s a reality that one person can save seven eight lives with zero cost to themselves if they have otherwise decided to die,” said Savulescu. “They ought to have the option of saving other people’s lives after their death.”

If Henriques ever bothered to interview those who thinks conjoining euthanasia and organ harvesting is a very bad and dangerous idea, she doesn’t report on their views.

Had she done so, she might have reported a hard truth that her story omits: Many, if not most, of those whose homicides were combined with after-death organ harvesting were either disabled or mentally ill.

In other words, these were not people who would soon die anyway, but those who wouldn’t. In fact, Belgian doctors have held PowerPoint seminars alerting colleagues to be on the lookout for euthanasia patients with neuromuscular disabilities because they tend to have good organs.

Some might ask, If these patients want euthanasia, why not get some good out of their deaths? Coupling organ harvesting with mercy killing creates a strong emotional inducement to suicide, particularly for people who are culturally devalued and depressed and, indeed, who might worry that they are a burden on loved ones and society.

Letting people in existential crisis believe that their deaths have greater value than their lives could push them into a lethal decision. Worse, if society ever comes to see such people as so many organ farms, our perceptions of the inherent value of their lives could take a terrible and deadly turn.

Photo credit: © xixinxing —

Wesley J. Smith

Chair and Senior Fellow, Center on Human Exceptionalism
Wesley J. Smith is Chair and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. Wesley is a contributor to National Review and is the author of 14 books, in recent years focusing on human dignity, liberty, and equality. Wesley has been recognized as one of America’s premier public intellectuals on bioethics by National Journal and has been honored by the Human Life Foundation as a “Great Defender of Life” for his work against suicide and euthanasia. Wesley’s most recent book is Culture of Death: The Age of “Do Harm” Medicine, a warning about the dangers to patients of the modern bioethics movement.



BelgiumbioethicsCanadaeuthanasiaJulian SavulescuNetherlandsorgan harvesting