I’m profoundly conflicted, as a human being and as a Christian, by this news from the medical front.
With little attention or debate, transplant surgeons across the country are experimenting with a kind of partial resurrection: They’re allowing terminal patients to die, then restarting their hearts while clamping off blood flow to their brains. The procedure allows the surgeons to inspect and remove organs from warm bodies with heartbeats.
Transplant surgeons and several bioethicists argue that the procedure is appropriate and crucial to boosting the number of organs that are available for transplant. But critics — including other bioethicists and the nation’s second-largest physician organization — warn that surgeons are trampling the line between life and death.
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The 160,000-member ACP [American College of Physicians], the second-largest U.S. physician group after the American Medical Association, has raised the loudest alarm about the NRP-cDCD procedure. In a 2021 policy statement, the organization warned that it “raises significant ethical concerns and questions regarding the dead donor rule, fundamental ethical obligations of respect, beneficence, and justice, and the imperative to never use one individual merely as a means to serve the ends of another, no matter how noble or good those ends may be.”
Matthew DeCamp, MD, PhD, a bioethicist at the University of Colorado and a consultant to ACP, was lead author of a 2022 commentary in the journal Chest opposing the procedure.
“You’re reversing the conditions under which death is declared and taking active steps to ensure the progression to brain death,” he told MedPage Today. “The person is declared dead, and the subsequent actions invalidate that declaration” … “Imagine you’re an outside observer watching this procedure take place. You’d be unable to distinguish whether it was proceeding to organ transplantation or the resuscitation of the patient.”
There’s more at the link.
I’m sure the medical “ethicists” (in this case, that may be a contradiction in terms) have their own reasons for approving of this procedure; but I can’t help thinking of it as the nearest thing possible to deliberate killing. Restarting the heart while shutting off blood to the brain? What else can you call that but killing? Without the shutting off of blood, the brain would react normally, and reanimate the body.
I fear this is the inevitable consequence of doing away with the concept of “soul”; the thing that makes a human being, human; a spiritual concept that goes beyond mere flesh and blood. If one regards the body as just flesh and blood, with no spiritual component at all, then human life itself is no more than flesh and blood. When they fail, human life of necessity ends right there. There’s no need to think of one’s humanity as more than merely physical, and certainly no need to take account of God and eternity, because neither of those concepts is physical.
Needless to say, no Christian (and no believer from Islamic, Judaic, or many other faith traditions) will accept that; but our voices no longer count in the soulless, post-spiritual corridors of medical power. It’s all about utility, about harvesting the maximum possible number of organs to transplant (very profitably, needless to say) into patients desperate for them.
In the ultimate obscenity, that’s what allows China to offer an “organs-on-demand” service to transplant patients from overseas, taking them from those whom the Communist Party has deemed politically incorrect and transplanting them into well-heeled patients from other countries. To find a matching organ donor in the USA can take months, even years, but in China – thanks to a large pool of available (and involuntary) “donors”, perhaps numbering in the millions – they can often do it in a matter of weeks. That’s great for the patient, if you don’t mind having on your conscience (if any) the fact that someone was murdered to give you the organ(s) you needed to live. Sadly, judging by the number of transplants China performs, many don’t have such a conscience at all.
I find this whole situation horrifying. Imagine being in an accident and being taken to hospital. You registered as an organ donor some years ago, perhaps doing so idly while renewing your driver’s license. Now, as you’re wheeled into the ER, you know that if things don’t go well for you, there will be doctors – perhaps the same medical staff you’re trusting to save your life – salivating at the thought of deliberately allowing you to die, or even accelerating the process, in order to harvest your organs for profit. So much for dedicated medical care! If that doesn’t scare the living daylights out of you, it should!