Bioethics News

Let’s increase organ transplant rates by encouraging euthanasia patients to donate, say doctors

Let’s increase organ transplant rates by encouraging euthanasia patients to donate, say doctors

Since 2005 about 40 people in Belgium and the Netherlands have successfully combined euthanasia with organ donation, according to an article in the Journal of Medical Ethics by ethicists and transplant specialists. The doctors are so enthusiastic about the procedure that they have proposed legal changes which will speed up the procedure and maximize the number of donations. Although the numbers are still low, the idea is becoming more popular in both countries, according to the authors.

(Not everyone – in fact, only a small proportion – of people who request euthanasia are potential organ donors. Most requests come from patients with cancer, which makes them unsuitable donors. Most of the Belgians who have already participated in the programme appear to have suffered from strokes or multiple sclerosis.)

However there are some legal and ethical wrinkles to be ironed out to make the transition from euthanasia to organ donation seamless.

Some regulations and laws are supposed to be safeguards, but they slow the procedure down. For example, in the Netherlands, euthanasia is not regarded as a natural death and so permission must be sought from the public prosecutor to dispose of the body. In Belgium (where euthanasia is regarded as “natural”), three doctors need to sign off on the procedure. These laws are not absolutely necessary.

On the ethical side (assuming that euthanasia is perfectly ethical), relatives are supposed to be able to participate in the patient’s death. But if he or she wished to donate organs, they will have to bid farewell in a cold hospital setting.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.