Thursday, April 12, 2007

Rush to Judgment

Today's Human Nature column in Slate (Invasion of the Organ Snatchers) references a Los Angeles Times story about what to all appearances looks to be a rush to declare a man brain-dead, so that a local organ procurement group could remove his organs for donation. (I'm using Slate to link to the story, because if you try to go in directly, you have to be a registered user of the L.A. Times.) The executive director of the procurement group said that they wouldn't have taken the organs, because staff there had their own concerns as to whether the diagnosis on brain-death was correct. "'They do a careful examination, and if there's any questions, the process gets halted then until their questions are resolved,' [Phyllis] Weber said. 'The public should be really grateful that that happens.'"

I was struck by that statement, because it implies that the procurement agency has a right to the organs of potential donors, and that they're doing people a favor by verifying that they're actually dead before they cut life support and go in and get them. But I, for my part, was under the impression that those were the rules - you had to make certain that people were actually brain dead before you pulled the plug on them against the will of family, even if that carried the risk that their organs would no longer be viable for transplantation by the time brain death occurred. Since when should the public be "really grateful" that people are just following the rules?

In this case, the final outcome was the man died - from my understanding, he never really had a chance. But he did hang on long enough that his organs were no longer viable. So it seems kind of a waste. All that anyone has to show for this is the nagging feeling that the organ procurers are willing to rush things and use pressure tactics to obtain viable organs for transplant. Seems like nobody wins this round.

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