Pediatric Heart Transplant Ethical?

September 8, 2008 09:00 AM

I don’t know how this nation continues to move forward when so many grisly things are occurring right under our noses and are being paid for with taxpayer dollars. A recent report is perhaps the most ghoulish I have read in a long time.

Picture this: The federal government is funding a research program that enables pediatric surgeons to take the hearts from severely brain-damaged newborns and transplant them into other diseased infants.

On August 14, the first report on this research was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The research team, led by Dr. Mark Boucek at Children’s Hospital in Denver, Colorado, performed three heart transplants from 2004 to 2007. In a recent interview, Boucek said, "It seemed like there was an unmet need in two situations. Recipients were dying while awaiting donor organs. And we had children dying whose family wanted to donate, and we weren't able to do it."

The NEJM also printed three commentaries and a panel discussion that sharply criticized this highly controversial research. Dr. Robert Veatch, a Georgetown University medical ethics professor, wrote the following:

It is impossible to transplant a heart successfully after irreversible stoppage: if a heart is restarted, the person from whom it was taken cannot have been dead according to cardiac criteria. Removing organs from a patient whose heart not only can be restarted, but also has been or will be restarted in another body, is ending a life by organ removal… The whole issue is whether the infants from whom the hearts were taken were dead. It seems very clear to me that they were not. I think it's illegal, and if it's illegal, what we're talking about is the physicians causing the death of the three patients, and that would be homicide. It's immoral. I think it should be stopped.

Some might argue that the doctors were attempting to do what was in the best interests of all concerned, and in the process, the fact that they actually killed one baby to treat another is a just by-product of what can be considered as double effect. However, such an argument is fatally flawed. One can never intentionally do evil, even if good might come from it.

As the eminent moral theologian, Father John Hardon, SJ, wrote in the widely read Modern Catholic Dictionary, in order for an action to satisfy the "double effect" standard,

1. the act to be done must be good in itself or at least morally indifferent; by the act to be done is meant the dead itself taken independently of its consequences;

2. the good effect must not be obtained by means of the evil effect; the evil must be only an incidental by-product and not an actual factor in the accomplishment of the good;

3. the evil effect must not be intended for itself but only permitted; all bad will must be excluded from the act;

4. there must be a proportionately grave reason for permitting the evil effect. At least the good and the evil effects should be nearly equivalent.

All four conditions must be fulfilled. If any one of them is not satisfied, the act is morally wrong.

Death is definitely not an incidental by-product when a doctor determines that he can remove the heart from a child who is ill in order to treat a child who is also ill but not dying. The physicians involved in the research project acted against life and, in fact, took the lives of three newborn children because their lives were deemed not worthy to be lived.

In case that phrase sounds familiar to you, perhaps you will recall the Nazi experiments that were documented in the 1920 book, The Release of the Destruction of Life Devoid of Value.

Doctors Binding and Hoche wrote,

By death with dignity, we don’t mean only the right to death with dignity, but much more, the legally acknowledged right to the complete relief of an unbearable life . . .

Realizing that there is indeed human life whose continuation is of no interest to any reasonably thinking person, then it [sic] up to the legislature to ask this fateful question: ‘Is it our duty to continually defend this unsocial life by giving it full protection of the law or is it our duty to release it for euthanasia?’ You could also pose this question from a legal point of view: Shall we prefer to see the continued support for this kind of life as an example of the sacredness of life or shall we consider the legalization of the mercy killing, so relieving for all those involved, as the smaller evil. . .

One of the reasons why American Life League tries so hard to explain to people why the very definition of "brain death" is an invitation to disaster could not be better explained than it has been in this report.

Respect for the dignity of the human person should not end when illness or severe brain damage occur, any more than it should when a mother wants to exercise a "choice" that would result in her baby's death.

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