The bloody ethics – or lack thereof – of organ transplants

Two articles caught my eye over the past few days, both dealing with different aspects of organ transplants.

The first is from Quillette, and is titled “Bloody Harvest—How Everyone Ignored the Crime of the Century“.  It provides ghastly details of China’s harvesting of organs from political prisoners and prisoners of conscience – apparently including current Uighur detainees.

In June of this year the China Tribunal delivered its Final Judgement and Summary Report. An independent committee composed of lawyers, human rights experts, and a transplant surgeon, the Tribunal was established to investigate forced organ harvesting on the Chinese mainland. These rumours have haunted the country for years—lurid tales of the fate suffered by members of the banned Falun Gong religion after being taken into police custody. Their organs, so the rumours go, are cut from their bodies while they are still alive, and then transplanted into waiting patients.

The Tribunal examined these claims, extending the group of victims to include Uyghur Muslims (among others), and its findings were unambiguous. “On the basis of all direct and indirect evidence, the Tribunal concludes with certainty that forced organ harvesting has happened in multiple places in the PRC [People’s Republic of China] and on multiple occasions for a period of at least twenty years and continues to this day.” Further to this, “the PRC and its leaders actively incited the persecution, the imprisonment, murder, torture, and the humiliation of Falun Gong practitioners with the sole purpose of eliminating the practice of, and belief in, the value of Falun Gong.” The Tribunal was also able to conclude, “with certainty,” that the Communist Party has been responsible for acts of torture inflicted on Uyghurs. These acts were found to constitute crimes against humanity.

There’s more at the link.

It’s possible the investigating tribunal may have been biased in motivation and/or conclusion, but given the evidence they advance, it’s hard to believe there’s no fire behind the smoke.  Certainly, it’s relatively easy to arrange one’s transplant in advance in China, provided one has the money to pay for it.  That can only mean that the transplanting hospital has a very large donor pool on which to draw, and can match your tissues with a donor at very short notice – quicker, in fact, than anywhere else in the world.  Draw your own conclusions.

The second article is titled “Canada Touts How ‘Assisted Suicide’ Is Providing Human Spare Parts. So Hurry Up and Die, Already.

Canada decriminalized doctors killing terminal patients in 2016 … Dying in the hospital, instead of surrounded by family at home, which originally was a key sales pitch for “death with dignity,” is now giving way to “leaving a legacy” of spare body parts – with a surgeon only steps away. For convenience, you understand.

And the Canadian government has cleared away any legal jetsam that could get in the way of the dying person donating organs, such as pesky family member objections…

. . .

There may be people reading this right now thinking, “They want to kill themselves. Someone else needs an organ, what’s the big deal?” Ethics, that’s what. Valuing human life in the public sphere, that’s what.

In the U.S. we were told that death with dignity was supreme. They smiled and lied. We just didn’t know how fast the slide toward inhumanity would take.

Here we are.

Before long we’ll be organ-shaming people. Public pressure will be put on people who may be terminal – but who selfishly want to live longer – to hurry up and kill themselves to provide spare parts for someone who has more value to society.

Again, more at the link.

I’d been a registered organ donor for decades, first in my birth country of South Africa, then after coming to the USA in the 1990’s.  However, I was aware of the growing pressure on doctors and hospitals to pronounce very sick or badly injured patients incapable of recovery, so that they could be “left to die in peace” and their organs then harvested for transplanting.  This was brought home to me in 2009, when I had my first heart attack.  I had no less than three visits from hospital staff while in the ER and ICU waiting for surgery.  All urged me to consider organ donation as a way to help others, and offered me forms to sign – some conveniently already filled out with my personal details, “to make it quicker and easier for me”.  They justified their pressure on the grounds of “Just in case you haven’t previously considered it” – but it felt uncomfortably like, “If you’re a suitable donor, we won’t try too hard to make sure you do make it if your case is marginal”.  They were using what I can only describe as high-pressure sales tactics, emotional appeals designed to make me feel selfish if I turned them down.

Guess what?  When I left hospital, I withdrew my registration as an organ donor, and I’ve made sure I’m not on any current lists as such.  Why take a chance on being turned into a “sudden involuntary donor” because of profit considerations?  It wouldn’t be my profit, either, or my surviving family’s – it would all go to the hospital.

Food for thought, for transplant recipients and donors alike.  It’s a moral and ethical minefield out there . . .



  1. Hey Peter;

    It boils down to who "owns" you…You or the state. In China, they believe that nothing is wrong with that because the state is the people and the people is the state so the people belong to the state. With Canada heading socialist, it is becoming apparent there too. The state profited off your working lives through and at the end, they not only get you with the death taxes, they get your organs also. For some reason, I was getting flashbacks to "Animal Farm" where Boxer the horse is sent to the knackers at the end of his life after working himself to death to support the state and the pigs got some booze delivered late that night….I keep thinking the same thing.

  2. Dear Peter,
    I cancelled my organ donor designation after working ICU and stepdown. I was appalled at the aggressiveness of the companies seeking organs, and the fact that I was forced to turn over relatives' information so they could be pursued by the companies for permission to take loved ones' organs. I was also shocked at the fact that these companies considered it perfectly appropriate to harvest organs from patients with HIV, hepatitis and cancer. This probably kept their statistics up, but what of the recipients? And the whole distasteful mess is all cloaked with feel-good, virtue-signaling PR campaigns.
    And despite all the blah blah about HIPPA and your personal information/privacy, etc., your information is available to any company that waves money at hospitals/agencies. On an individual level, its next to impossible to obtain your records – they're in another building, off site, that's only open on thursdays if the moon is full, and are guarded by dysmenorrheic people rejected by the DMV for being too hostile. Companies wanting your information however, are another matter, and these include the body snatchers. The for-profit agency that procures organs at my hospital are particularly aggressive, and we have very specific protocols in place allowing them access to all patients' and relatives' information. If a patient is not doing well, RNs are forbidden from telling the families of the company's interest, or the fact that we're forced to provide their personal information to the reps as they circle. Guilting the families into donation is the sole purview of the reps.
    The Newspeak has changed as well: now they no longer call it organ "harvest," it's organ "recovery," as if the patient was doing something bad with their liver and it needs rescued.
    And, as I pointed out earlier, the 'death panels' exist here as well: we have a committee that meets solely to determine who's been in critical care too long (costing the hospital money), and once these patients are identified, pressure is laid on families to make them DNR and move them out. The 'legacy' bit is also laid on thick.
    I went into nursing to help people, but it has been disheartening to realize that attitude only exists with those of us at the bottom of the totem pole. Every layer above us is just about profit.

  3. And why is it that all the levels of the medical establishment *except* the donor get compensated for their contribution to the process? Granted paying people4 for their organs and tissue open up another can of ethical worms. but as noted in the post it seems the ethics around the transplant business are shaky already.

  4. I am with Jennifer on this one. I too was a nurse for many years and saw this toward the "end" of my career in nursing. A department was created for the sole purpose of harvesting organs. It was staffed by members of the two for profit organ donor organizations in my area of Oregon. It was this and the big business direction of medicine that soured me from nursing or any job in medicine. I applaud you Jennifer for your stand.

  5. As a writer, are you familiar with Larry Niven's "Known Space" series in which, for a time, even jaywalking was a capital offense that resulted in your execution and being stripped for organs?

    I used to be listed as an organ donor and am no longer so.

  6. The whole lack of compensation thing has always bothered me; why does everyone else in the transplant chain get paid except for the most important link in the chain, the donor? I'm beginning to think that while I'd donate to my wife or a dear friend I would probably forgo donating to the general public.

  7. Larry Niven imagined black market "Organleggers" in the sixties. He even imagined governments making petit crimes punishable by death to provide spare parts for the organ banks. What he didn't imagine was corrupt governments becoming the organleggers.

    I have mixed feelings about organ donation. My best friend is alive today because he received a new heart several years ago. His transplant allowed him to help raise his son and get to know his grandchildren. On the other hand, with politicians pushing for universal healthcare, I wonder how long it will be, before a "Death Panel" decides your politics don't meet the approved standard of thought at that a right thinker deserves your parts more than you do.

  8. @Nuke:

    You cuing off my Niven comment or just didn't see mine? Just curious.

    You are correct, though. The governments are becoming the organleggers. And while the Left ridiculed Palin's "death panel" remarks her comment has become prescient. IIRC there are already cases where patients are denied care but told they can commit suicide… presumably as a way to get organs.

    Wrongthink leading to organ harvesting? Just wait until they implement a social credit score.


    "You cuing off my Niven comment or just didn't see mine? Just curious."

    A little of both. I read Peter's post and immediately thought of Niven's stories. Saw your comment and decided to expand on it. I don't know if the UK has harvested organs, yet. The "Death Panels;" however, are alive and well in the sceptered isle.

  10. And the whole compensation thingy… So I can sell my plasma, my hair, my sperm and now my gut bacteria, but I can't sell my blood, nor after death sell my organs to pay for the hospital bills.

    And, yes, I've seen a family get a body back from the hospital with just about everything harvested except the nails, and then get presented with a bill for the hospital stay (ER visit due to accident.) But the organ companies made beaucoup dinero off the pieces parts.)

    Oh, I'm for donations. But I'm also for getting compensated. My dad made decent money selling blood in his college days, once every six weeks, there for 30 minutes to an hour, in-out-done. If I try to sell plasma, 3 times a week for 2-3 hours each time, for barely enough money to pay for gas and protein in order to keep up my blood proteins. (If you're RH-, you can make money off of plasma, otherwise it's just a painful way to go broke.

    But, seriously, why shouldn't my family profit off my body after I've passed?

  11. And as to Red China selling parts? Gee, this was known back in the 70's. Who hasn't been aware of it?

    Yet the world says our prisons are horrible places of torture and death…

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