[UPDATE OF THIS POST ON 11 MAY 10:  Since posting this on my Blog I have posted a lot of information on the abuse extant in the organ transplantation industry which has resulted in organs being harvested from persons who are still alive, i.e. who have not yet been determined to have suffered true clinical death.  Too often, the medical profession has used “brain death” as the sole criterion to justify the removal of a person’s organs, even though that person might still be alive with the possibility of full recovery.  So, I would caution anyone who signs an organ donation form to add this qualifying sentence to the organ donation form:  “Do not remove any of my organs unless and until I have been declared clinically dead, with the cessation of ALL of the following bodily function:  natural respiration, natural blood circulation combined with cessation of all brain activity that is not merely indicative of a quiescent brain.”]

In 2003 I was diagnosed as having a tumor on my left kidney.  I immediately had surgery to remove it and the left kidney.  The tumor turned out to have been malignant but the urology surgeon removed not only the kidney and the tumor, but also the veins from the kidney.  Evidently he removed all the cancer cells because I have been cancer free every since, thanks be to him and to God.

At the time several friends who had more than two kidneys offered me one of their kidneys if it developed that I had to have the other kidney removed.  That was extremely generous of them and I was and am deeply grateful to them for the offer.

Does the Church approve of organ transplants?  Yes it does, under strict rules.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

“Organ transplants are not morally acceptable if the donor or those who legitimately speak for him have not given their informed consent.  Organ transplants conform with the moral law and an be meritorious if the physical and psychological dangers and risks incurred by the donor are proportionate to the good sought for the recipient.  It is morally inadmissible directly to bing about the disabling mutilation or death of a human being, even in order to delay the death of other persons. (2296)”

Shortly after my operation I signed the necessary papers to ensure that my organs would be available for transplanting, although, why anyone would want my 86 year old organs is beyond my imagining, but medical science being the marvel that it is, perhaps someone could benefit from my transplanted organs.

Jeff Jacoby has written an excellent column this week on the subject of organ donation.  I am not sure what solution he is proposing to the problem of an organ shortage; I am confident that he is not in favor of financial compensation for organs, but he does point out the need for more people to sign the donor authorization, especially young people.
It is sad but true that the young die in proportionately higher numbers than adults in automobile accidents and in most cases their valuable organs go to waste.

Here is Jacoby’s article:

by Jeff Jacoby
The Boston Globe
July 5, 2009

RIGHT ON THE HEELS of the recent news that Apple CEO Steve Jobs underwent a liver transplant came the speculation that he had somehow gamed the organ donation system in order to jump to the head of the waiting list. It was widely noted that Jobs’s transplant took place at a hospital in Tennessee, some 2,000 miles from his home in California. That suggests he had registered with more than one regional transplant center. Multiple registrations aren’t against the rules but they can be an expensive proposition, since the patient must be able to travel at a moment’s notice when the organ becomes available, and since insurance companies generally won’t pay for evaluations at more than one hospital. Jobs, a billionaire, may thus have benefited, frets USA Today, from “a loophole that favors the rich.”

Had Jobs traveled to Tennessee to consult a highly sought-after medical specialist, or to acquire a piece of cutting-edge medical equipment, or to undergo a rare and difficult brain operation — or to buy a Smoky Mountains mansion, for that matter — nobody would be grumbling about loopholes or wondering whether rules had been manipulated. When it comes to doctors’ services or medical technology or surgical procedures — or real estate — people understand that suppliers generally charge what the market will bear.

The same economic system that generally makes good health care available to all does price certain products and services high enough that only the wealthy can afford them. It isn’t news that the world’s finest surgeon commands a high fee, or that the latest “miracle” drugs tend to be expensive, or that billionaires can afford things that mere mortals can’t.

Yet when it comes to the donation of human organs, countless people believe that the market must be prevented from functioning.

Under current law, an organ may be transplanted to save a patient’s life only if it was donated for free. Federal law makes it “unlawful for any person to knowingly acquire, receive, or otherwise transfer any human organ for valuable consideration for use in human transplantation.” The surgeon who performed Jobs’s liver transplant, the hepatologist who diagnosed him, the anesthesiologist who managed his pain, the nurse who assisted during the procedure, the medical center that provided the facilities, the pharmacy that supplied his medications, even the driver who brought him to the hospital — all of them were paid for the benefits they rendered. Only the organ donor (or the donor’s family, if the liver came from a cadaver) could receive nothing except the satisfaction that comes from performing an act of kindness.

That, many say, is as it should be: Organs should be donated out of goodness alone; otherwise the rich might exploit the poor. Others flatly oppose any hint of commerce in human organs. Opening the door to “financial incentives,” declared the Institute of Medicine in 2006, could “lead people to view organs as commodities and diminish donations from altruistic motives.”

Unfortunately, altruistic motives aren’t enough. I carry an organ donor card and think everyone should, but only 38 percent of licensed drivers have designated themselves as organ donors. Thousands of organs that could be used to save lives and restore health are lost each year, buried or cremated with bodies that will never need them again.

No one would dream of suggesting that medical care is too vital or sacred to be treated as a commodity, or to be bought and sold like any other service. If the law prohibited any “valuable consideration” for healing the sick, and allowed doctors to practice medicine only if they did so for free, the result would be far fewer doctors and far more sickness and death.

The result of our misguided altruism-only organ donation system is much the same: too few organs and too much death. More than 100,000 Americans are currently on the national organ waiting list. Last year, 28,000 transplants were performed, but 49,000 new patients were added to the queue. As the list grows longer, the wait grows deadlier, and the shortage of available organs grows more acute. Last year, 6,600 people died while awaiting the kidney or liver or heart that could have kept them alive. Another 18 people will die today. And another 18 tomorrow. And another 18 every day, until Congress fixes the law that causes so many valuable organs to be wasted, and so many lives to be needlessly lost.

In 1994
27,000 people waited for a kidney transplant
9,500 people received a kidney transplant

In 2003
57,000 people waited for a kidney transplant
11,000 people received a kidney transplant

(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe.)


About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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