Bioethics Blogs

Euthanasia & Organ Donation in Canada

National Post reports that since Canada decriminalized euthanasia in June 2016, 26 of the 338 patients who have died by lethal injection in Ontario chose to donate tissue or organs.  Lethal injection, which causes cardiac death in two or three minutes, allows organs to be removed much more quickly than after natural death, which results in better organs for transplants.  Organ retrieval after euthanasia is thus an attractive prospect for some physicians.

Once one accepts the premise of euthanasia, it is easy to justify harvesting organs from consenting patients.  As Dr. James Downar argues, “If we accept people can make decisions to end life, and we accept the idea of cardiac death being sufficient for organ donation, this should be acceptable.”

However, even some proponents of euthanasia are uncomfortable with the idea, voicing concern that the opportunity to help others might pressure some to end their lives.  Others point out that it would be very difficult for a patient to change his or her mind after the process of the donation has been started and recipients for the organs have been found.

As this article demonstrates, accepting the morality of euthanasia makes it increasingly difficult to explain why other medical practices should be off-limits.  Questions of autonomy, consent, and coercion become harder to navigate once the basic moral principle that physicians should not kill is overturned. Indeed, it is not a long logical step from retrieving organs after lethal injection to harvesting before cardiac death.

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.