Monday, May 10, 2010

When It's Harvest Time

Harvesting organs. Doesn’t that sound like something some old Baptists and Methodists do in their spare time – collecting old electric church organs?

Of course, the term “harvesting organs” never had anything to do with church – unless you were talking funerals.

Harvesting organs is what doctors do when a desperately ill patient can benefit from the healthy organs left over in a corpse. Granted, it can sound a bit ghoulish, but in reality, that’s what it is. Waiting for somebody to die so their liver, kidneys, and even eyes and heart can be used by somebody else. The doctor “harvests” the good organs from the deceased.

It’s what happened to the benefit of Steve Jobs, Apple’s legendary CEO and now a newly-minted spokesman for the procedure. You’ll recall my essay on Jobs’ liver transplant last year in Memphis, and how his wealth bought him exceptional access to the nation’s transplant lists.

At the time, everybody related to the Jobs case was mum about the ethics swirling around the question of better health through wealth. But now, Jobs himself admits in a CNN article that even he would like to see access to organ transplants made more widely – and equitably – available.

From Atlantic to Pacific

Two states have proposed two different methods of liberalizing the organ harvesting process. California’s legislature has crafted a bill that would establish a state registry for donors who are still alive, which experts say would increase organ availability and streamline the patient identification process. New York wants to create a state donor registry listing all state residents, whereby everyone is automatically placed on the list, and individuals who might want to opt out need to take the initiative, a process called “presumed consent.”

California’s bill doesn’t appear to have a lot of negatives, but New York’s presumed consent bill has already prompted some serious pushback.

Critics of New York’s plan say that it’s morally and ethically sketchy, because the state would run the risk of overriding personal beliefs about organ harvesting. More draconian fears about the proposal have the state killing off marginally-healthy residents to get at their organs faster (as in "New York minute...").

What Do You Think?
  • Would giving your state easier access to your vital organs make you more - or less - comfortable?
  • Is expanding the practice of organ harvesting a better alternative to cloning, genetic engineering, and other artificial forms of human tissue creation?
  • What rights to needy living people have for organs your dead body will no longer need?

Have you already notified your loved ones, your lawyer, and/or your primary care physician of your wishes concerning the harvesting of your vital organs? I haven't... yet.

If you’re waiting for me to blast one side of the other in this issue, I’m sorry, but I’m not sure where I fall on this issue. I know that if I, or a loved one, needed an organ somebody else didn’t, I’d like to have unfettered access to that organ. But then, if the cadaver we’re talking about is mine, I’d like my state to wait until I’m well and truly dead before they harvest my organs.

Harvest time will come soon enough.


  1. Please note: they don't want your organs when you're "well and truly dead" they need to have a beating heart donor. You'll be breathing and your heart will be pumping. Anesthesiologists are there, but only to give you paralytics to keep you on the table; in the US there's no anesthesia for pain.(Great Britain does give pain relief, "just in case"). Arbitrarily declaring people "brain" dead, without EEG's and without any consistently accepted medical standards is a billion dollar BUSINESS and I don't want Assumed Confiscation to rule, forcing us to "donate" raw materials to their BUSINESS. Ever check out what the organ donor networks pay their executives? It's not a charitable BUSINESS in any way whatsoever. Being "not for profit" is just a tax classification, it implies no noble work.

  2. Wow - I wish my "anonymous" feedback writers would identify themselves or provide some sort of validation for comments like this... sounds like there's way more to this issue than meets the eye.


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