The problem with killing coma patients for their organs

The problem with killing coma patients for their organs

Credit: sfam photo via Shutterstock.
Credit: sfam photo via Shutterstock.

.- There are severe ethical shortcomings in a British doctor's proposal to help unconscious patients die so their organs can be used for transplants, one critic has said.

“The killing of an innocent human being is always wrong – even when a patient, such as the hypothetical patient discussed here, asks that he be put to death,” Edward Furton, Ph.D., an ethicist at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, told CNA.

“Killing patients so that their organs can be used by others is equally bad.”

He suggested the argument showed the weakness of a worldview that sees no inherent value in the human body.

“If one approaches moral questions from the perspective of atheism or agnosticism, and then invokes a utilitarian calculus, the human body only has value as an object of use by others,” said Furton, who is also editor-in-chief of The National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly.

Dr. Zoe Fritz, a clinical research fellow at Warwick Medical School and a consultant physician for Cambridge University Hospitals, made a controversial case for involuntary organ donation in an Aug. 31 paper published in the U.K.-based Journal of Medical Ethics.

Fritz used the hypothetical example of a patient in a “persistent vegetative state” who was to have clinically assisted nutrition and hydration withdrawn. She argued that where a patient’s death is “inevitable” and when it is agreed by the courts that life support will be withdrawn, It could be in “the best interest” of an unconscious patient “to have a drug that would stop their heart and to have vital organs donated to a family member, acting as a means to the end of saving another,” the author said.

“‘Best interests’ should include the interests that people have previously expressed in the well-being of others; this extends to altruistic deeds,” said Fritz.

She suggested the hypothetical case of a mother who ran into the road to save her son from an oncoming vehicle, only to be hit by the vehicle and rendered permanently unconscious. Family members or a judge could decide the mother would have wanted her organs donated to save the life of her son, even if it meant being killed by a fatal drug.

“By extension, it could also be in the patients’ best interests to donate their organs to someone else, if that was consistent with their previously expressed wishes,” Fritz said.

Furton challenged the way the argument treated patients.

“Persons in the persistent vegetative state are not dead and are not dying,” he said. “They should not have their food and water taken away. When that is done, the cause of death is not an underlying disease (the persistent vegetative state is not a fatal condition), but the lack of hydration. The cause of death is thus dehydration. This is a type of euthanasia.”

“The author of the article shows no appreciation for the theological dimension of death. Her argument, again, is purely utilitarian,” Furton added.

From the Catholic perspective, he said, “death is the transition to another life.”

“We are free to use palliative drugs to make that passage easier, but we cannot directly kill anyone.”

Furton though the argument was too abstract from practical decision-making.

“True moral reasoning engages the everyday facts of life, and in the case of organ donation, the everyday facts of medical practice,” he continued. “We must reason from the perspective of common sense, not deduce conclusions from bizarre hypotheticals that do not occur in reality.”

Tags: Human rights, Bioethics, Catholic News, Euthanasia