NRL News

Euthanasia and Organ Harvesting

by | Mar 31, 2011

By Wesley J. Smith

Editor’s note. This appears today on Wesley’s great blog at

I am trying to raise the alarm that current bioethical policies and advocacy promote the objectification of human life and the denigration of human exceptionalism.  This episode is in To The Source, where I discuss organ harvesting coupled with euthanasia.  From “No Longer Science Fiction:” []

When Jack Kevorkian advocated harvesting organs from assisted suicide victims in his 1991 book Prescription Medicide, people were appalled.  What could be more dangerous than giving depressed people with severe disabilities the idea that their deaths would have greater societal value than their lives?  Then, when he actually acted on his beliefs, stripping the kidneys of Joseph Tushkowski, a quadriplegic ex police officer Kevorkian assisted in suicide, offering them at a press conference, “first come, first served,” people were stunned.  Who could be so ghoulish? []

However, Kevorkian’s macabre notion had turned a key in the deadbolt.  The idea of coupling euthanasia with organ harvesting began to receive respectful consideration in medical and bioethics professional journals.

I give a notable example with quotes.  I then segue from Kevorkian’s supposed fringe approach to mainstream medicine in Belgium:

Opponents of legalizing euthanasia—of which I am one—were well aware of these and other articles, which served to normalize the idea of coupling physician-prescribed death with organ procurement and transplantation.  But, we knew of no cases where the deeds had actually been coupled.  So we waited, fearing that the shoe would drop, but praying it would not.

Clunk! That sound you just heard was the euthanasia/organ harvesting shoe slamming with great velocity into the hardwood floor.  Writing in the journal Transplant International (Vol. 21, p. 915, 2008) several physicians reported that they had participated in the euthanasia and concomitant organ retrieval of a totally paralyzed woman

I point out that a team of bioethicists in Europe are proselytizing tying the euthanasia followed by organ harvesting of people with progressive neuro/muscular diseases. I conclude:

Apologists for the euthanasia/organ harvest protocol defend the idea based on the procedural requirement that different medical teams be involved in the euthanasia and the organ harvesting. But that supposed protection is meaningless. Once a society decides that some of its members have a life of such low quality that it is acceptable for doctors to kill them, and once these patients—many of whom already feel like burdens—learn that they can save lives by their suicides, the seductive pull of asking for euthanasia/organ harvesting could reach gravitational strength. We have entered exceedingly dangerous territory, made the more treacherous by doctors and bioethicists validating the ideas that dead is better than disabled and approvingly recounting how patients can be viewed as a natural resource. If we are to avoid devolving into a Kevorkian-style society, we must resist the siren song of euthanasia/assisted suicide at all measures.

I warned about this possibility in my very first anti-euthanasia/assisted suicide column in Newsweek, in 1993. [] People said it would never happen. And now that it is, many don’t care. But I think most people  still do. The problem is getting them to actually see the storm that is coming.

Categories: Euthanasia