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Organ donations surge in Canada after legalization of assisted suicide

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Canadian patients approved for euthanasia can be approached for organ donations, creating an ethical quandary.

A recent article from the Ottowa Citizen reported that the legalization of euthanasia has led to a surge in organ donations in Canada. While the surplus in transplantable organs has been a “boon” to the 1,600 people on the Canadian transplant waiting list, the practice of soliciting donations from patients who will die following medically assisted suicide (MAiD) has led to ethical concerns.

The Ottowa Citizen report states that 18 organs and 95 tissues were donated by MAiD patients during the first 11 months of 2019. Even without December’s data, this is up 14% from 2018 and 109% higher than it was in 2017. Canada decriminalized medically assisted suicide in 2016.

Prior to the 2016 legislation, organizations that solicit organ donations were only notified of instances where a patient has been diagnosed as terminal, but now a patient approved for euthanasia by doctors also joins this list. It is required by law that the Trillium Gift of Life Network is notified in these cases.

The Ottowa Citizen notes that some countries, such as Belgium and the Netherlands, require the MAiD patient to initiate organ donation, while others, like the Switzerland and several states in the U.S., prohibit them from donating organs all together. In Canada, however, Trillium is free to approach MAiD patients and solicit organ donations. The practice has led some to question its ethical implications.

Catholic News Agency’s Christine Rousselle spoke with Michael Cooper, M.P., who suggested that bringing up organ donation to someone in such a vulnerable position could raise concerns that the process is not entirely consensual.

“The concern that I have is that it muddies the waters in terms of the patient making a decision freely, without any degree of coercion or influence from anyone,” said Cooper. He added that with the current setup of physician-assisted death in Canada, there is a chance that it is administered to a patient who is not able to properly consent or who may not want to die.

For a Catholic perspective, Rousselle spoke with Dr. Moira McQueen, a moral theologian and the executive director of the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute. She noted that, while the Church allows for the use of organ donations for the use of transplants, it has yet to weigh in on this growing moral quandary. She said:

“There’s no Church teaching on it that says specifically, you can’t. There is definitely something that talks about the dignity of the body, and I would think, as a Catholic, most of us would say ‘oh no, you can’t use these organs because the person has died a sinful death, died a wrong death by asking for euthanasia.”

She added:

“I think the Church will eventually deal with all these implications, but right now everyone is watching these events unfold and it’s tricky to separate what’s morally wrong.”

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