By Hilary White

LONDON, August 28, 2008 ( – “Very few people,” says the head of Britain’s leading pro-life organisation, “realise that the pro-abortion and pro-euthanasia lobby believes it can be right intentionally to kill innocent human beings.” John Smeaton, Director of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, wrote that a report by a group of scientists, published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), that said doctors should be able to remove organs from patients, even if this would cause the patient’s death.

“The essential line taken by the paper’s authors is that it really doesn’t matter whether the patient is dead or not.” Smeaton wrote, “This new, further slide down the slippery slope of anti-life thinking is truly disturbing.”

In the paper, heart transplant surgeons described how they simply “modified” the definition of death for three brain-damaged infants so they could justify removing their hearts for transplantation into three other infants who suffered from severe heart problems.

Two bioethicists, Robert Truog and Franklin Miller, made the case that it is “perfectly ethical” to remove organs from patients who are not really or convincingly dead.

They said, “whether death occurs as the result of ventilator withdrawal or organ procurement, the ethically relevant precondition is valid consent by the patient or surrogate. With such consent, there is no harm or wrong done in retrieving vital organs before death, provided that anaesthesia is administered.”

SPUC commissioned the Southern Cross Bioethics Institute (SCBI) to examine the NEJM paper. SCBI concluded that the authors are utilitarians for whom the only ethical consideration is whether such patients have given “informed consent”. The SCBI report concluded that Truog and Miller are asserting that the ultimate outcome of such organ transplant operations, “is really so good that traditionally unethical means can be justified”.

The SCBI report asks, “Could we soon see euthanasia linked to organ donation? Could the ‘altruism card’ of organ donation be played to add nobility to an otherwise morbid cause?”

Bioethics is a branch of utilitarian philosophy, developed in the US in the early 1970s, and has almost completely replaced traditional Natural Law-based medical ethics in the medical professions all over the western world. Utilitarian bioethics proposes that the first duty of medicine is not to the individual patient, but to the “greatest good for the greatest number”.

SCBI explains that the two new definitions of death, “brain death” and “cardiac death”, widely adopted by the medical community, are merely manipulations of language devised to make organs available from living patients.

“Truog and Miller,” the SCBI report says, “think the concept of brain death has ‘served us well’ because without it, procuring organs would not happen and so organs for transplantation would be scarce. Rather than the concept being right, they instead consider ‘being served well’ to be what counts.”

Read related coverage:
New England Journal of Medicine: ‘Brain Death’ is not Death – Organ Donors are Alive