Upwards of 6,000 people die every year in the
But here’s something else: The organ shortage may also be encouraging a shift in the definition of death. Economist reports that bioethicists are concerned that “as the demand for organs rises, doctors are under pressure to shift the line that divides life from death, so that they can get hold of organs for transplant at a time when they are more likely to be in a healthy condition.”
Following the 1968 recommendations of a committee at
Dr Truog and Dr Miller posit the example of a patient who has given informed consent to the withdrawal of life support in the case of his suffering devastating brain injury. The doctors respect his wishes and his heart stops beating. So far, so ethical. But instead of waiting a few minutes for his brain to die as well, they anticipate this inevitability and declare him dead immediately, so that they can hurry along with the business of removing his organs.
Death in such cases is therefore based on a decision not to resuscitate, not the impossibility of resuscitation. And their hypothetical case does seem to be happening more frequently in reality. In
, data from the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, an organisation that matches donors to recipients, show that those classified as cardiac-dead but not brain-dead represent the fastest growing proportion of donors, having risen from zero ten years ago to 7% in 2006. America
Does this news make anybody more willing to carry a donor card?