Monday, October 5, 2009

Wesley J. Smith Is Here to Protect Your Endangered Organs.

Is the government killing you, Granny? Death panels rushing you into that good night? Government-enforced euthanasia in your near future?

And lest you think death is their only objective, hide your guts. They want your organs too!

While it sounds like a plot hatched in New Jersey, the ubiquitous Wesley J. Smith has a new mystery article up at CNSNews (that no link will link to) telling us of new organ-harvesting plans - for the living! He summarizes and quotes at his blog, Secondhand Smoke:

Here they come. For years, organ transplant ethicists and some in the bioethics community have agitated to increase the supply of donated organs. There is nothing wrong with that in the abstract, of course. Increasing the supply would alleviate much human suffering and is devoutly to be wished. But therein lurks a great danger. Increasing supply is a worthy goal only so long as the organs are obtained ethically. But there is a growing chorus among the medical and bioethical intelligentsia to obtain more organs by harvesting living patients. Yes, some of our most influential voices now seek a license to kill for organs.They don’t put it that bluntly, of course. Rather—reflecting the spirit of our times—advocates argue that our definition of death should be changed to allow a great pretense that living patients are actually dead, thus permitting organ procurement.

Abstract organ harvesting? And what exactly is the spirit of our times? Sounds like fear-mongering to me. What leads Smith to think that taking organs from the disabled and infirm is nigh?

We are not—yet—at the point that society will permit open harvesting and experimentation on cognitively devastated people, but that doesn’t mean we won’t get there. The slippery slope undermining human exceptionalism—the intrinsic value of human life simply and merely because it is human—is already slip-sliding away. Popular majorities support using nascent human life as corn crops in embryonic stem cell research, if the embryos were “leftovers” and going to be thrown out anyway.

But scientists have already moved beyond that early limitation. Many are now actively researching human cloning toward the end of manufacturing embryos for use and destruction in research. And it won’t stop there if current trends continue. We already see early advocacy for “fetal farming,” that is, gestating fetuses for use in organ transplantation and medical experimentation.

So, Smith is saying, because we legalized aborting fetuses and because we use embryos for experimentation we are very, very close to extracting organs from living human beings because, you know, "current trends continue."

In other words, abortion and stem cell research are like the "gateway drug" marijuana. One good toke and we're on to sucking kidneys out of quadriplegics. That's basically the "slippery slope" argument in an analogy.

To be serious, Smith's got little logic going on here - at least as far as I can tell from the bit of the article still accessible. The "slippery slope" argument - that we erode the "sanctity of human life" by allowing women or the elderly or the disabled choice in their medical care - is not based in fact or law but fear.

When Christiaan Barnard successfully completed the first heart transplant in 1967, giving Louis Washkansky of Cape Town a healthy heart, taken from Denise Darvall who was rendered brain dead in a car accident, he was roundly accused of "playing God." The advancement of medical technology has always caused fear and dire predictions of our lost moral compass.

I expect Smith is either working to drum up some fear for his own "pro-life" purposes. In his spurious logic, heart transplants and other medical developments did lead to abortion (1973) and predicted the rise of the "euthanasia" movement. And yet we know - and as a society approve of - such medical advancements as heart transplants, stem cell research and abortion because they improve our quality of life, preserve personal choice and rights, increase our longevity, and contribute to our success as a society.

I think what Smith is concerned about is a society moving away from traditional and religious valuations of quality of life - and suffering - that he feels should be legally mandated. Striking fear in the disabled and infirm for the safety of their organs is really not the best way to approach an argument for medical ethics. Facts, rational argument, and application of law would work better. But it is the way of cultural conservatives bent on imposing their values on the rest of society.

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