A Vexing Problem | A Special Report by Daniel Allott | Catholic World Report
Disturbing developments in the area of organ transplantation.
Organ transplantation—the moving of an organ from one body to another—is a relatively new medical procedure. The first successful transplantation in America—which was of a kidney—took place in 1954. Today, the most commonly transplanted organs are the kidneys, liver, heart, lungs, pancreas, and intestines.
The demand for these organs is much greater than the supply. The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), which collects and manages data about every transplant in the United States, maintains the national organ transplant waiting list. As of late May, that list contained 107,729 names. Three quarters of those patients are waiting for kidneys, and they will each wait up to eight years to obtain one. A 2009 study in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology estimated that 46 percent of patients over age 60 waiting for a kidney transplant will die before they receive one. In 2007, for instance, 16,500 Americans received a kidney transplant; nearly 5,000 died while waiting for one.
These numbers have focused the attention of physicians, ethicists, and policymakers on ways to increase the supply of viable organs. While some of the proposed solutions are promising, others, as Dr. John F. Brehany, executive director and ethicist for the Catholic Medical Association, said to CWR, are “inappropriate responses centered on improper notions of the dignity of human life.”
One increasingly popular proposal is for the government to presume that everyone wants his organs harvested if he does not say otherwise in writing. “Presumed consent” would significantly narrow the gap between the approximately nine in 10 people who tell pollsters they favor organ donation and the roughly one in 10 who are both signed up to be organ donors and whose loved ones consent once they die.
At least two dozen countries have adopted presumed consent organ donation systems. In some systems, family members may be required to give consent, while in others family members may veto harvesting even if the donor has consented.
The US has an “opt-in”
organ donation system in which one must give consent in order to be
designated a donor. All states require that donors make an affirmative
statement during their lifetimes of a willingness to donate—by signing a
driver’s license, signing up online, or consenting through a health