Written Consent Of The Deceased Or Consent Of The Family?
Within the last few decades, one of the most amazing medical advances has been the ability to give organ transplants (Newkirk 11). Gary Newkirk states in Modern Medicine that these medical events are a bittersweet experience, since in many instances someone s untimely death facilitates the survival of someone else (Newkirk 11). The Pope John Paul II says organ donation is a genuine act of love (Century 947). Ten different religious leaders at the Ottawa headquarters of the Kidney Foundation in Canada, all signed an organ donor card (CMJ 1338). Rabbi Reuven Bulka says We want to escalate this to the point where it s not even a choice it is a duty of the individual (CMJ 1338).
Currently, there are 62,000 individuals on a national waiting list for organ transplants of various types (Newkirk 11). Four people are added to this organ waiting list every hour, however, 12 people who are already on this list will die daily while waiting for a transplant (Newkirk 11). Many Americans claim they would gladly donate their family members organs if they knew that this was something their family member wanted (Newkirk 11). However, more than 75% of American s don t know if their family member is a registered donor (Newkirk 11). When confronted, roughly 50% will allow removal of their family member s organs (Newkirk 11). The key words here are when confronted . It says in Lancet that studies have showed health care workers do not like to confront the family during this tragic time with such a request (2085). The organ donation question must be asked immediately following the death, because time is a major player (Perry 38). Major organs, like the heart and lungs, need to be removed from the body with 4-6 hours after death (Perry 38). Other organs, like the kidneys, must be removed 48-72 hours of death (Perry 38). As a result of all of this, the demand for organs is growing faster than the rate of organ donation (Nelson, Murray 30).
The big question here is whether or not organs should be taken from the deceased without the prior written consent, or consent of the family. James Nelson, who is an ethicist at a medical center in New York says, Every year, many people who could live productive lives with a transplant die before a replacement heart or liver; can be found. A presumed consent law would help save those live at virtually no cost to the person from whom the organs are taken. Currently, when a person dies, hospital staff members are required in most states to ask next of kin if they would donate the organs. But that s a terribly difficult time to be asking such a question, and many doctors and nurses simply don t. Giving up our organs after we re dead isn t charity in my view. It s a moral duty (Nelson, Murray 30).
On the other hand, Thomas Murray, who is also an ethicist, but at a medical center in Cleveland believes Presumed consent is exactly that: presumptuous. I agree that organ donation is a moral good-even a moral duty. But the state is not justified in compelling us to fulfill every moral duty we have. Unless I ve expressly told you it s okay to take my organs, who are you to presume that I have given my okay? Part of the value of donating an organ comes from its being a gift. It s a powerful opportunity to find some good in tragedy, and that s why most families do say yes when asked. If you take away that opportunity for generosity and instead legally compel people to donate, something is lost-by the family and by society (Nelson, Murray 30).
I believe that a law should be passed that allows hospitals to remove organs from the deceased without prior written consent or consent of the family for a number of reasons: first, a dozen people die every day in the United States while waiting for organs that could possibly save their lives; second, we have tried the non-presumed consent approach, and it hasn t been working; and, third, imagine what it would be like if your were directly involved in such a situation.
Organ transplantation is one of the most important advances in medicine in the last 30 years. It allows people who would otherwise die or have a miserable quality of life to lead normal and productive lives if they could get a transplant. That is a big if. At any given time, dozens of people are waiting for a new lease on life, but many of them won t get it because not enough organs are available. People aren t signing up to be organ donors. The number of people who are on a waiting list for organs is increasing faster than the number of people who are declaring themselves organ donors. I don t understand why this is the case. I don t understand why people will not declare themselves as organ donors. Do they think they are going to need their organs why they die? It doesn t make sense. We are aware of this problem, but when people die, we put them in a casket and bury them with their organs, while at the same time somebody else is lying on their deathbed waiting for an organ that we just buried. It is shame, but unfortunately this seems like this is a situation that we won t completely understand until we, or one of our family members is in this situation.
Organ transplant societies are doing their best to raise organ-donor awareness. They lobbied the government for money, and received grants that enabled them to help educate the public. Also, the States have tried to get people to sign up as donors when they get their new drivers license. But neither one of these approaches seems to work. I think it is because they just don t have all the facts. I didn t completely understand the organ deficiency problem until I started to research this topic. I think we should try a new approach, presumed consent . However, people don t seem to like the presumed consent law. They feel that when a relative of theirs dies, their organs (which are no longer working) belong to them. People feel that hospitals have no right to take their loved one s organs away without asking. But statistics shows, when hospitals ask for the organs, the majority of the people say no. So how else are we going to get more organs? I would have not have a problem with a hospital grabbing a few organs from a family member without asking, just as long as they didn t take so much that there couldn t be an open casket funeral. I would also not have a problem if the hospital took my entire body and divided it up into dozens of pieces. That would actually make me happy, because I know that my organs could give a second chance to dozens of people.
Imagine yourself in a situation where you, a family member, or a close friend needs an organ transplant or you/them will die. Suppose your child wakes up one morning complaining of a bad stomachache. You don t think anything of it, because people get have stomachaches all the time. But after four days, you get concerned and decide to take your child to the hospital. The hospital runs tests, and finds out that your child has an infected intestine. The doctor tells you that your child must have a transplant, or they will die in two weeks. Because the supply of organs is extremely low, the chances of your child finding a liver that is a perfect match is next to nothing. What do you do? There is nothing you can do. You are completely helpless. One of the worst things a parent can experience is the death of a child. Your hopes are raised, when after a week, the hospital informs you that they have found an intestine from a 20-year old man that was killed in a motorcycle accident. Your child is immediately taken into the operating room. After 10 hours of torturous waiting, the doctor comes to the waiting room and tells you that the surgery went well. You are ecstatic. You drop to your needs and begin to weep uncontrollably for your child has been given a second chance. You think for a moment how wonderful it was that the man whom was killed in the accident declared on his motorcycle license that he wanted to be an organ donor, but that thought quickly escapes your mind because you are just so happy that your child is still alive. However, one week after the surgery, your child s body rejects the intestine, and dies.
Now imagine you are the one who is in desperate need of a transplant. Suppose you live in the inner city of Philadelphia. You are walking to the market that is right around the corner from your house to buy groceries. You live in a bad part of town. On your way to the market, you get caught in gunfire and a bullet penetrates your stomach. You are rushed to the hospital, and after surgery, the doctor tells you that they were not able to save your stomach. The doctor informs you that you can live for 5 days without a stomach, but if they can t find one, you will die. Can you picture what that must be like? I can only imagine. I will never be able to fully understand how terrible it must be to go through either one of the above situations until I am in a situation like that myself. It doesn t sound like anything I ever want to experience.
Organ donation is a wonderful thing. Most people, when asked about organ donation, will respond that they would be glad to donate their organs after they die. Even most of the religious leaders of the world seem to think that organ donation is great. But the bottom line is, nobody is actually going through with it. We have tried to educate the public, we have tried to get people to voluntarily sign donor cards, but it just isn t working. We have also had hospitals talk to family members after a death of a loved one, but that isn t working either. The presumed consent law might sound terrible like a terrible, heartless act, but how else are we going to help people in need of transplants. I would be willing to bet, that if a law like this were passed, and people would see the difference it would make in saving lives, the majority of them would no longer have a problem with it. Live, and then give.
Nelson, James Lindeman; Murray, Thomas. Should Organ donation Be Automatic Unless A Person Has Expressly Forbidden It? Health Oct. 1993: 30-32.
Newkirk, Gary. Now You Want My Body. Modern Medicine 67.7 (1999): 11-12.
Religious Leaders Give Organ Donation A Boost. CMAJ: Canadian Medical Journal. 157.10 (1997): 1338-1342.