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Steve Weatherbe

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Nova Scotia premier pushes for organ donation to be the norm at death

Steve Weatherbe

HALIFAX, Nova Scotia (LifeSiteNews) – Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil wants citizens in the province to consider making organ “donation” automatic at death unless the potential donor has opted out beforehand in a change that some see as a threat to human dignity and to badly injured persons who are prematurely declared dead.

Current Nova Scotia law requires next-of-kin consent or written consent of the potential donor, which is called “opting-in.” McNeil has said, according to news reports, that “he believes people in the province are ready to consider the idea of having to opt out of being a donor rather than opt in.”

“On a personal note, I believe it's something we should be seriously considering,” he stated, adding, “Reverse onus [opting out] doesn't mean that it happens automatically. Families always have the ability to say no.”

But “reverse onus” or “presumed consent” or “opting out” mean that if there are no next of kin who object, organs will be harvested automatically.

According to a story published by Global News last year, Canada lags behind other countries in donations. “About one percent of Canadians who die in hospital donate an organ at about half the rate of countries such as Spain and the United States.”

But Moira McQueen, director of the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute in Toronto, says there is a serious moral issue with opting out. “The key to giving or donating is that it is voluntary, not top-down. ”

“My objection to this over the question of consent,” McQueen said.

A person’s silence should not be taken to mean their consent, she told LifeSiteNews. “It could mean they just never got around to signing the proper form. Taking a person’s organs in that circumstance would be acting against their consent.”

McQueen said the Catholic Church (like most faiths) supports organ donation as an act of charity, but it insists on true consent. Anything less is an “imposition on human dignity.” Without consent, she added, “They can do anything they want with our bodies. But all cultures, though they have different funeral rites, they all treat the bodies of the dead with respect.” Even elephants, she added, mourn their dead.

“The body is our most important possession, the carrier of our human dignity,” she said.

Campaign Life Coalition opposes organ donations as currently conducted because it believes donors are often not actually dead when their organs are taken. On its website, it explains that the concept of so-called “brain death” was devised simply to facilitate organ harvesting.

Campaign Life’s Jeff Gunnarson told LifeSiteNews, “We cannot do evil to bring about good.” He called the current situation a “nightmare” and that opting out would only make worse.

“My heart goes out parents waiting for transplants for their children, ” he said, but added that everything must be done to keep young accident victims alive and help them recover.

Gunnarson said the Harvard criteria for brain death allow the medical system to keep people alive on life support until their organs are needed while deeming them legally dead because of the inactivity of their brains and the prognosis they will never recover consciousness.

Nonetheless, Gunnarson said, there are many cases of people recovering consciousness after being declared brain dead. “We don’t know enough about the brain to make that kind of decision” he said. The current system is open to abuse, he said, under pressure from those who need organs for transplants.

Dr. Paul Byrne of the Life Guardian Foundation told LifeSiteNews, “If people were well informed about organ transplants, most would probably not consent [that is] if they knew the organs have to come from a living person.”

As well, people might reconsider consent if they knew the ultimate test for being brain dead is to cut off the injured person’s ventilator supplying them oxygen for 10 minutes. If they don’t breathe on their own, they are declared dead.

Byrne said the criteria for brain death are inadequate and in practice are constantly under pressure from the organ transplant industry, which makes between $4 million and $5 million a year. He believes more research needs to go into healing brain injuries, but because of the demand for organs from brain-dead patients, funding for such research is scant.

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