Jennifer A. Chandler describes some of the ethical and legal challenges surrounding organ donation following medical assistance in dying.
Today, it is medically possible to donate organs following death brought about by medical assistance in dying. This currently happens in countries like Belgium and the Netherlands. People with neurodegenerative conditions like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, or multiple sclerosis (MS) are eligible to donate organs. Those with cancer, however, are not eligible because of risks to recipients.
In Canada, people with neurodegenerative conditions who satisfy the legal eligibility criteria for assisted dying may also meet the medical eligibility criteria for organ donation. However, this possibility raises novel ethical, legal, and policy issues that must be carefully considered. The following four hypothetical cases illustrate some of these issues.
CASE 1 – A patient seeks assisted dying and wants to donate to a family member.
Some provinces allow people to direct their organ donations to relatives after they die. Some patients who choose assisted dying may derive some comfort from being able to help a family member in this way. There is the risk, however, that patients may feel pressured to seek assisted dying, in part, to benefit a sick relative.
CASE 2 – A family member is asked to consent to cornea donation for a loved one who passed away through assisted dying. The patient was not asked about this before his death because he was not registered as an organ donor, and nobody wanted to burden him with the decision.
It seems inappropriate not to ask patients about organ donation prior to death, when they are capable of speaking for themselves.
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.