In one more anticipation of things to come, Obama’s HHS begins a program to harvest organs from patients in emergency rooms.
Often the politicians who talk about health care the most believe in the Hippocratic Oath the least. Barack Obama falls into this category. He promises that his health care plan will protect the weak and vulnerable. This would be a little bit more credible if his policies weren’t already killing and exploiting them.
He considers aborting unborn children “health care,” has authorized the use of tax dollars for the exploitation of embryos in lab experiments, and his Department of Health and Human Services is now pushing the grotesque practice of harvesting organs from urgent-care patients in emergency rooms.
According to the Washington Post, taxpayers are now financing, via a $321,000 HHS grant, a pilot program at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center-Presbyterian Hospital and Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh to obtain organs from emergency room patients, a practice heretofore “considered off-limits in the United States because of ethical and logistical concerns.”
The goal of the project, reports the paper, is to “investigate whether it is feasible and, if so, to encourage other hospitals nationwide to follow.”
The article is somewhat obtuse about the longstanding moral problem at the center of organ transplantation, which is that the donors aren’t actually dead. It seems to accept uncritically the bogus definitions of death as “brain death” and “cardiac death” that the medical community uses to take organs from the dying but not dead. (Organs from cadavers are useless, so the medical community had to come up with the convenient lies of death as “brain death” and “cardiac death” to pluck usable organs from the living.)
Still, the subtext of the article is that bringing transplant teams into emergency rooms marks a new low for society: “Critics say the program represents a troubling attempt to bring a questionable form of organ procurement into an even more ethically dicey situation: the tumultuous environment of an ER, where more than ever it raises the specter of doctors preying on dying patients for their organs.”
Even liberal-leaning bioethicists find this practice unseemly. “There’s a fine line between methods that are pioneering and methods that are predatory,” the Post quotes bioethicist Leslie M. Whetstine. “This seems to be in the latter category. It’s ghoulish.”
They fear that doctors will increasingly give patients less care, seeing them as organ donors rather than patients, and in the haste of removing the organs transplant teams won’t bother to investigate “consent” too carefully (that is, did the person really give “informed” consent? Or did they just superficially sign off on a driver’s license designation?) ”Imagine you have a 20-year-old inner-city kid who gets shot. Twenty minutes later, a family member comes in and says, ‘What happened?’ They’re told, ‘We tried to save him but couldn’t, and he had an organ donor card so we took an organ,” the Post quotes University of Pennsylvania bioethicist Arthur Caplan. “You can imagine they’re going to think, ‘Did you really do everything you could to save him?’”
Bioethicist Michael Grodin is quoted as saying: “When you do this stuff in such close proximity to treating the patient, the people in the emergency room will quickly start to think, ‘This is a potential organ donor’ even when they are treating the patient…People are going to wonder, if they are being treated in the ER, ‘Are the transplant people going to swoop down to get my organs?’”
But for the proponents of this program, taking organs from the dying in an emergency room is no different than taking organs from the near-dead in other parts of the hospital, which is what already happens, as the story acknowledges: “In the United States, the practice known as ‘donation after cardiac death,’ or DCD, is being done only on patients in the intensive-care unit or other parts of the hospital for whom the possibility of death has been long anticipated, and there has been time to methodically assess their condition and make sure family members are comfortable with the decision.”
In other words, it is just more efficient to do it in the emergency room and provides an enormous new opportunity for organ procurement. The proponents offer the usual assurances of “firewalls” and “protections,” and they promise to take organs only from the “clinically dead,” but all of this claptrap only serves to expose the problems with the existing criteria of death, as the article suggests: “Some critics question whether patients pronounced dead in the emergency room meet the official criteria for organ donation, or whether there are enough safeguards in place in case someone pronounced dead unexpectedly revives, which can happen, though very rarely.”
Being “pronounced dead” and actually dead are two different things when the definition of “death” is brain death and cardiac death, and the article raises the possibility that even those elastic definitions of death won’t be respected. As Whetstine asks, “Are such patients really dead after resuscitation efforts end and after a time interval of two minutes of cessation of circulation elapses?”
The article says the new practice “could backfire by making an already skeptical public less likely to designate themselves as organ donors, several experts said.” That is, if it draws more attention to the phoniness and crass utilitarianism built into existing death criteria for most organ transplantation. But that’s a big if. This discussion is so mired in euphemism and imprecision that most people don’t even know what organ donation entails, and a utilitarian medical culture hungry for usable organs doesn’t mind leaving them in that ignorance.
This practice is new in location but not principle. Nevertheless, it is a grim accomplishment for the Obama administration, and the article mentions another: it has “restarted” a “federally funded DCD pilot project” in Colorado that takes “hearts from babies 75 seconds after” they are taken off life support.
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