Coercion concerns intensify after doctors found to be harvesting organs from euthanasia victims

08 January 2020

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Coercion concerns have intensified after it was discovered that Canadian doctors have been harvesting the organs of the recently euthanised to satisfy the demand for donations. John Smeaton, SPUC Chief Executive said: “In seeking to benefit patients however compelling the case, the fundamental rights of potential donors and their families must always be respected.”

According to Canadian media outlets, citizens who are being euthanised in the Ontario region are being used to meet the growing demand and market for organs. During the first 11 months of 2019, euthanised patients in Ontario accounted for 18 organ and 95 tissue donors. This was a notable 14 percent increase over 2018 and a 109 percent increase over 2017. 

Mr Smeaton said: “There is growing evidence that coercion plays an substantial role for many vulnerable people with regards to so called physician-assisted death. Conflating this decision with organ donation further complicates the issue of coercion. 

“We need to acknowledge the unsettling reality that many vulnerable people who have been euthanised without consent, may also have had their organs harvested- without explicit consent.

“These are serious issues which need to be faced by anyone wishing to promote ethical forms of donation while also protecting donors and the common good.”

Ignoring serious ethical issues

SPUC has previously reported on UK state attitudes toward organ donation pointing out they could undermine the rights of potential donors and ignore serious ethical issues of consent and coercion.

John Smeaton said: “It is true that organ donation is good, but only insofar as it does not bring about harm, namely the death of the donor, and, worse still, where that is coupled with lack of explicit consent. The removal of explicit consent which is possible through state-regulated ‘opt-out’ policies, undermines the ethical basis of donation and intensifies concerns around some aspects of organ donation, such as removing vital organs from beating heart patients.”

Concerns have also been raised regarding safeguarding the wellbeing of persons vulnerable to being coerced to agree to donate organs and ensuring a system does not emerge which makes a person a mere instrument to be used for the good of others.

Mr Smeaton added: “The State should not presume to own the bodies of its citizens, whether in life or death. Rather, its role is to serve the interests of persons whose bodily existence and remains should be honoured.”