Swiss proposal organ donation ethically shaky


Central Europe


Nurse and patient on an intensive care unit. Photo AFP, Nicolas Tucat

If a proposal of the Swiss government on organ donation is accepted, doctors can remove organs from any deceased person who had not explicitly stated during life that they opposed organ donation.

If the proposal is accepted, voluntary organ donation will change to organ removal without consent. On May 15, the Swiss parliament will vote on the issue. The bill is not undisputed. A committee already held a referendum against this "extended objection rule", Livenet reports.

Ethicist Dr Ruth Baumann-Hölze, who is part of the committee, says to Livenet that she is concerned about the bill. She sees it as a shift away from integrity and self-determination towards the "instrumentalisation" of the human body. Baumann favours organ donation, but she is afraid that the dignity of human bodies will be intruded upon.

"The right to ask me if you want something from me is one of the basic requirements for a humane state", Baumann argues. "I don't have to put up a sign in front of my house: Please don't break in." The same principle applies to medical treatments: people with mental illnesses, for example, cannot be treated against their will, except in the case of an emergency.

Baumann asserts that taking something that the other person may not want to give is a breach of his integrity. "An organ donation is a sacrifice, and a sacrifice cannot be demanded – it can only be a voluntary gift."

Even when people are braindead, Baumann does not believe it is right to take away their organs without consent. Do people in intensive care units have the same rights as healthy people, she asks Livenet rhetorically. "Under the new regulation, they do not have the same rights."

In addition, she points out that the danger exists that people, who are not yet braindead, are already prepared for organ removal. In practice, a cardiac arrest would be induced artificially, whereafter the organs would be removed. "For this purpose, the brain-dead are resuscitated so that the organs are still fresh, so that brain death cannot perhaps be reversed after all."

Baumann finds it very important that people can decide about their bodies personally. "The personal decision must not be taken away from people."

According to the ethicist, it is not even proven that organ donation without consent will lead to more donations. "One thing is clear from all the studies in different countries: good communication towards the population is required to encourage the willingness to donate organs."



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