The Common Good
March-April 2000

Giving Our All

by Bernard Cullen | March-April 2000

I READ THE ARTICLE by Michael L. Westmoreland-White, "Life on the Auction
Block" (November-December 1999), with some concern.

I READ THE ARTICLE by Michael L. Westmoreland-White, "Life on the Auction Block" (November-December 1999), with some concern.

I thank Westmoreland-White for bringing the plight of ill people who await a transplanted organ to the public’s attention. He definitely provided a much-needed call for donations. Nevertheless, I was concerned some may come to envision those waiting for transplants as people unscrupulous and desperate enough to actually condone forcing someone to donate an organ.

I have been waiting for the last five years for a second kidney transplant as I slowly watch my body deteriorate. In the years since my own kidneys failed in 1980, I have never heard of any proposal calling for compulsory organ donation and fail to see how it could even be seriously considered in a free society such as ours. There have been calls to go to a presumed consent system, where everyone is presumed to allow their organs to be taken after death unless they specify they do not wish this to happen. A presumed consent system is currently used in several countries around the world, but this system would allow surviving relatives to say no to the donation.

Even more remote is the possibility raised in the article that organs may soon be bought and sold on the open market. Federal law has prohibited that for a number of years, and rightly so. It would result in a situation—certainly immoral—under which the preponderance of donations would be made by the poor and end up in only the very rich.

We need more state laws requiring doctors to bring up the subject of organ donation with the family of someone close to death. All too often the patient’s physician, who has a more intimate relationship with his patient’s family than with a transplant center hundreds of miles away, will not want to disturb anyone by raising the subject of donation. Each heart, liver, kidney or other organ that is transplanted allows another child to reach adulthood or another parent to live to see their child grow up.

Bernard Cullen, Lake Carmel, New York

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