Organ donations from patients ‘not yet dead’

Calls for the whole population to be automatically registered for organ donation, unless they actively choose to opt out, have been backed by the Prime Minister.

But a number of doctors are concerned that the process encourages doctors to harvest organs from patients who are not quite dead yet.

Doctors are keen to take organs from a body with a beating heart, because the removal of the heart, lungs, liver, pancreas and kidneys must be done before they begin to deteriorate due to cessation of blood circulation.

Agreement from two doctors that a patient is ‘brain dead’, though their heart continues to beat, is required before organs can be removed.

Some ‘brain-dead’ organ donors are given a general anaesthetic before removing their organs to suppress the body reacting to the physical distress of being cut into.

Secular ethicist Professor Peter Singer of Princeton University has said of these patients: “Defining such people as dead was a convenient way around the problems of making their organs available for transplantation, and withdrawing treatment from them.”

Medical ethicist, Michael Potts, has said: “Since the patient is not truly dead until his or her organs are removed, it is the process of organ donation itself that causes the donor’s death.”

Dr Margaret Cook, a former consultant haematologist at St John’s Hospital, West Lothian, wrote on the issue last year in The Daily Telegraph: “We must exercise our democratic rights to prevent them from imposing coercive measures.

“How can we be sure, if this proposal became law, that there would not be undue pressure to be less stringent on declaring a potential donor brain-dead? That there would not be more misguided attempts to liberalise the laws on euthanasia?”

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