CMDA's The Point

Slip Sliding Away: Death By Organ Donation

September 22, 2016
Photo credit: Scottish Government on Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC

by David Stevens, MD, MA (Ethics)

Proponents of physician-assisted suicide/euthanasia adamantly maintain the slippery slope does not exist. The U.S. is not like the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland and now Canada, they claim. They point out how well assisted suicide is working in states here.

Of course, no one knows really how it is working due to the shroud of secrecy that has been draped over the process. There is no effective penalty if doctors don’t report. By law, physicians’ voluntary reports must be destroyed after the data is tabulated. There is no way to go back to verify the accuracy of these reports. Doctors have to lie about the patient, who has taken their own life, and say the patient died of a terminal disease. Physicians are immune from malpractice liability, even if they missed the terminal diagnosis or botched the suicide.

Physician-assisted suicide is a “sacred cow,” even though the potential for abuse is high. We don’t treat any other new medical intervention like we treat physician-assisted suicide. Almost everyone has turned a blind eye.

And then there is the slippery slope.

Journal of Medical Ethics, which prides itself in being the “leading international journal that reflects the whole field of medical ethics,” recently published an article by Dr. Zoe B. Fritz of Warwick University’s Division of Health Sciences that argued euthanizing a persistent vegetative patient is more humane than deliberately dehydrating them to death. That is like arguing whether it is more humane to kill someone with a knife or strangulation. It sidesteps the main issue. Should anyone be allowed to deliberately kill a patient at all?

But Dr. Fritz didn’t stop there. The reason for euthanizing the patient was so their organs wouldn’t be damaged and could be harvested for organ donation.

I heard the same argument in the embryonic stem cell research debates more than 10 years ago. Proponents said, “These embryos are going to die anyway. Let’s just make it a little earlier so we can get some use out of their valuable biological parts.”  Making the best of a bad situation is a seductive argument.

Remember this, there is a huge moral difference between someone expiring of a disease versus someone taking their life. Until recently, we called the first “dying of natural causes” and the second “murder.” Intent is everything. Dr. Fritz’s intent is to make the patient dead and dead sooner so their valuable organs can be harvested while they can still be used. If that reasoning is left unchallenged, “Why stop there?”

Through this short cut to death by euthanasia, patients with other diseases could benefit other patients who need organ donation. Stroke patients are ideal candidates. So are young people with severe trauma and those with severe mental illnesses.

It is already legal in the Netherlands to conjoin euthanasia with organ harvesting. More than 40 patientshave had their organs harvested. But that is not enough. The Netherlands recently went to an “opt out” of organ donation system versus an “opt in” system. Unless you explicitly state you don’t want organ donation, your organs can be harvested at death without your or your family’s permission.

This latest decision may not seem to be a big deal unless you realize that “termination (euthanasia) without consent or permission” is not uncommon in the Netherlands and is rarely punished. A physician could easily get away with killing a patient in order to harvest their organs for the benefit of someone else.

There truly is a slippery slope, which already is looking more like a cliff than a slope. Once you say some lives are not worthy to live and the end justifies the means, there is no logical place to draw the line. That is why further legalization of physician-assisted suicide must be stopped.

It is simply too dangerous to head down this road.

About David Stevens, MD, MA (Ethics)

Dr. David Stevens, author of Jesus, MD, Beyond Medicine and co-author of Leadership Proverbs and Servant Leadership and serves as CEO Emeritus of the Christian Medical & Dental Associations, a national organization of Christian healthcare professionals that seeks to change hearts in healthcare. Founded in 1931, CMDA promotes positions and addresses policies on healthcare issues; conducts overseas and domestic mission projects; coordinates a network of Christian healthcare professionals for fellowship and professional growth; sponsors student ministries in medical and dental schools; distributes educational and inspirational resources; holds marriage and family conferences; provides missionary healthcare professionals with continuing education resources and conducts academic exchange programs overseas. At CMDA, Dr. Stevens has helped develop an evangelism training program that teaches thousands of healthcare professionals how to share their faith in a healthcare setting. He was a catalyst for starting the Global Missions Healthcare Conference, trains new healthcare missionaries three times a year and annually leads a summit for executives of mission organization doing healthcare ministry. He has also helped launch a nationwide network of community-based ministries that provide on-site discipleship, fellowship and outreach opportunities for local healthcare professionals and students. As a leading spokesman for Christian healthcare professionals, Dr. Stevens has conducted thousands of media interviews, including NBC's Today Show, NBC Nightly News, BBC-World Television, Newsweek, JAMA, USA Today, CNN Sunday Morning, CNN News Site and National Public Radio. He has also appeared on FOX Family Channel, PAX-Television, Tech TV, The Odyssey Channel, America's Health Network and many other national outlets. He has written many book chapters and magazine articles. Prior to becoming a Zondervan author, he wrote a regular health column for the Promise Keepers' New Man magazine and served on the editorial board of Christian Single magazine. Dr. Stevens is also heard as host of the CMDA Healthwise Public Service Announcements, which address general health and bioethical issues and airs on radio stations nationwide. CMDA members hear him as the host of the popular Christian Doctor’s Digest audio magazine, which has featured national leaders such as Luis Lugo, Jim Cymbala, Newt Gingrich, John Stonestreet and Kay Arthur. Prior to his service with CMDA, Dr. Stevens served as director of World Medical Mission. In Somalia, Dr. Stevens led an emergency medical mission that treated 45,000 suffering Somalis in the midst of war. In the Sudan, medical teams under his leadership treated more than 25,000 villagers to stop the spread of an epidemic. Dr. Stevens has seen firsthand how meeting the physical needs of patients provides opportunities to meet their spiritual needs—by introducing them to God’s love through a relationship with Jesus Christ. From 1981 to 1991, Dr. Stevens was a missionary doctor at Tenwek Hospital in Bomet, Kenya where he served as Medical Superintendent and then Exeuctive Officer. He helped to develop Tenwek from a bush hospital to one of the most outstanding mission facilities in the world. At Tenwek, he directed a $4 million development plan, secured the installation of an $850,000 hydroelectric plant, oversaw the start of a nursing school and doubled the size of the hospital. The community healthcare and development programs he designed at Tenwek are currently reaching more than one million Kenyans and serve as an example of what medical outreach in the developing world can accomplish. Dr. Stevens’ experiences provide rich illustrations for inspirational and educational presentations at seminars, conferences and churches. His topics include missions and evangelism, spiritual commitment and growth, bioethics and other medically and spiritually related subjects. Dr. Stevens holds degrees from Asbury University and is an AOA graduate of University of Louisville School of Medicine and is board certified in family medicine. He earned a master’s degree in bioethics from Trinity International University in 2002 and served on the boards of World Gospel Mission and Asbury University. He has regularly taught at the Christian Medical & Dental Associations' educational seminars for missionary physicians and dentists in Kenya, Malaysia and other forums. He is a Fellow of the Biotechnology Policy Council of the Wilberforce Forum and helped found the National Embryo Donation Center. Dr. Stevens and his wife Jody have a son, Jason, and two daughters, Jessica and Stacy, and nine grandchildren, all of who are involved in domestic or international healthcare ministry.

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