On the Front Lines of the Culture Wars

The medical journal Applied Cardiopulmonary Pathology reports that organs harvested from euthanized patients make better transplants.

Euthanasia or “mercy killing” is the practice of ending the lives of patients who are terminally ill and have no possibility of recovery. Proponents say it ends unnecessary suffering. Opponents say legalization is a slippery slope. In its most extreme, Nazi Germany put the mentally retarded to death since they did not contribute to society.

Euthanisia is illegal in most of the United States, however is practiced in Belgium and some other countries. Abuses have been alleged where the elderly were euthanized by heirs who, according to accusations, were unwilling to wait for death.

“A disturbing study conducted by Belgian doctors involved killing patients via euthanasia in a room next to the hospital’s operating theater, and then wheeling them next door and harvesting their organs immediately after being pronounced dead,” writes Thaddeus Balinski for the website, which opposes abortion as well as euthanasia. “The study found that lungs from those who die by euthanasia are more suitable for transplant surgery than lungs taken from accident victims.”

Professor Van Raemdonck

Dr. Dirk Van Raemdonck from the Department of Thoracic Surgery at the University Hospital Gasthuisberg was the leader of the study titled “Initial Experience With Transplantation of Lungs Recovered From Donors After Euthanasia.”

The procedure involved admitting the donors to the hospital a few hours before the planned euthanasia procedure. They were killed in a room next door to the operating theater. Their lungs were removed immediately after they were pronounced dead.

The report stated euthanized donors now account for 23.5 percent of all cardiac death lung donors in Belgium.

Are mercy-killing laws being abused in Europe? A 2010 Canadian Medical Association report found that 20 percent of Belgian nurses interviewed by researchers had been involved in the euthanasia of a patient and reported that that  120 of 248 admitted to participating in “terminations without request or consent.”

Dr. Peter Saunders of Care Not Killing, a UK-based alliance of disability and human rights organizations, said half of all euthanasia cases in Belgium are involuntary.

“Doctors there,” said Dr. Saunders, “now do things that most doctors in other countries would find absolutely horrific.”

He said he was shocked by the casual indifference of the report.

“I was amazed at how nonchalantly the issue was dealt with as if killing patients and then harvesting their organs was the most natural thing in the world,” he told the London Daily Telegraph. “The matter of fact way the retrieval process is described in the paper is particularly chilling.”