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The purpose of this blog is to stimulate thought and discussion about important issues in healthcare. Opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily express the views of CMDA. We encourage you to join the conversation on our website and share your experience, insight and expertise. CMDA has a rigorous and representative process in formulating official positions, which are largely limited to bioethical areas.

Slip Sliding Away: Death By Organ Donation

September 22, 2016

by David Stevens, MD, MA (Ethics)

Proponents of physician-assisted suicide/euthanasia adamantly maintain the slippery slope does not exist. The U.S. is not like the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland and now Canada, they claim. They point out how well assisted suicide is working in states here.

Of course, no one knows really how it is working due to the shroud of secrecy that has been draped over the process. There is no effective penalty if doctors don’t report. By law, physicians’ voluntary reports must be destroyed after the data is tabulated. There is no way to go back to verify the accuracy of these reports. Doctors have to lie about the patient, who has taken their own life, and say the patient died of a terminal disease. Physicians are immune from malpractice liability, even if they missed the terminal diagnosis or botched the suicide.

Physician-assisted suicide is a “sacred cow,” even though the potential for abuse is high. We don’t treat any other new medical intervention like we treat physician-assisted suicide. Almost everyone has turned a blind eye.

And then there is the slippery slope.

Journal of Medical Ethics, which prides itself in being the “leading international journal that reflects the whole field of medical ethics,” recently published an article by Dr. Zoe B. Fritz of Warwick University’s Division of Health Sciences that argued euthanizing a persistent vegetative patient is more humane than deliberately dehydrating them to death. That is like arguing whether it is more humane to kill someone with a knife or strangulation. It sidesteps the main issue. Should anyone be allowed to deliberately kill a patient at all?

But Dr. Fritz didn’t stop there. The reason for euthanizing the patient was so their organs wouldn’t be damaged and could be harvested for organ donation.

I heard the same argument in the embryonic stem cell research debates more than 10 years ago. Proponents said, “These embryos are going to die anyway. Let’s just make it a little earlier so we can get some use out of their valuable biological parts.”  Making the best of a bad situation is a seductive argument.

Remember this, there is a huge moral difference between someone expiring of a disease versus someone taking their life. Until recently, we called the first “dying of natural causes” and the second “murder.” Intent is everything. Dr. Fritz’s intent is to make the patient dead and dead sooner so their valuable organs can be harvested while they can still be used. If that reasoning is left unchallenged, “Why stop there?”

Through this short cut to death by euthanasia, patients with other diseases could benefit other patients who need organ donation. Stroke patients are ideal candidates. So are young people with severe trauma and those with severe mental illnesses.

It is already legal in the Netherlands to conjoin euthanasia with organ harvesting. More than 40 patientshave had their organs harvested. But that is not enough. The Netherlands recently went to an “opt out” of organ donation system versus an “opt in” system. Unless you explicitly state you don’t want organ donation, your organs can be harvested at death without your or your family’s permission.

This latest decision may not seem to be a big deal unless you realize that “termination (euthanasia) without consent or permission” is not uncommon in the Netherlands and is rarely punished. A physician could easily get away with killing a patient in order to harvest their organs for the benefit of someone else.

There truly is a slippery slope, which already is looking more like a cliff than a slope. Once you say some lives are not worthy to live and the end justifies the means, there is no logical place to draw the line. That is why further legalization of physician-assisted suicide must be stopped.

It is simply too dangerous to head down this road.

David Stevens, MD, MA (Ethics)

David Stevens, MD, MA (Ethics)

Dr. David Stevens, MD (Ethics), author of Jesus, MD, Beyond Medicine and co-author of Leadership Proverbs and Servant Leadership and serves as CEO Emeritus of the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA), a national organization of Christian healthcare professionals that seeks to change hearts in healthcare. As untold thousands of people who have heard him preach could attest, Dave Stevens is a gifted storyteller and a powerful Christian communicator with a passion for evangelism and a deep understanding and respect for the integrity of God’s Word.

As the son of an itinerant Methodist evangelist who, like John Wesley himself, truly saw the world as his parish, Dave comes by his speaking skills honestly. He’s honed his talent over the years in an incredible variety of settings. Whether he’s recruiting tribal leaders to provide volunteer support for a community health initiative in rural Kenya, preaching at American mega-church missions conferences, testifying before a panel of Washington politicians on Capitol Hill or challenging an auditorium full of healthcare professionals to better integrate their personal faith with their professional practice, Dave knows how to hook and hold an audience. While always unashamedly Christian in terms of his convictions and values, Dave can hold his own in non-Christian and even decidedly anti-Christian settings. His ability to clearly communicate difficult spiritual truths, foundational biblical values, scientific facts and thorny bioethical issues gives him an authoritative voice to speak out frequently on behalf of the American Christian healthcare community. It’s also enabled him to initiate and lead a program that has trained thousands of Christian healthcare professionals how to use, but not abuse, their authority to be and offer spiritual light and salt in a world where so many patients need more than physical healing.

As a leading, trusted spokesman for Christian healthcare professionals, Dr. Stevens has conducted thousands of media interviews, including JAMA, USA Today, Newsweek, NBC's Today Show, NBC Nightly News, BBC-World Television, CNN and National Public Radio. He has also appeared on FOX Family Channel, PAX-Television, Tech TV, The Odyssey Channel, America's Health Network and many other national outlets. He has written numerous book chapters and magazine articles. Prior to authoring his first book, he wrote a regular health column for the Promise Keepers' New Man magazine and served on the editorial board of Christian Single magazine.

Dr. Stevens is also heard as host of the CMDA Healthwise Public Service Announcements, which address general health and bioethical issues. CMDA members hear him as the host of the popular Christian Doctor’s Digest audio magazine, which has featured national leaders such as Kay Arthur, John Stonestreet, Jim Cymbala, Newt Gingrich and Luis Lugo.

Dr. Stevens holds degrees from Asbury College and the University of Louisville School of Medicine and is board certified in family medicine. He earned a master’s degree in bioethics from Trinity International University in 2002 and has served on the boards of Asbury University and World Gospel Mission. He is a fellow of the Biotechnology Policy Council of the Wilberforce Forum and helped found the National Embryo Donation Center. Dr. Stevens and his wife Jody have a son, Jason, and two daughters, Jessica and Stacy, and 10 grandchildren, all of who are involved in domestic or international healthcare ministry.