“What Makes Killing Wrong?”
The conundrum faced by the organ transplant industry, that the removal of vital organs kills the “donor,” can be “easily obviated by abandoning the norm against killing,” two leading U.S. bioethicists have said. In an article titled, “What Makes Killing Wrong?” appearing in last month’s Journal of Medical Ethics, the authors have moved the argument forward by admitting that the practice of vital organ donation ignores “traditional” medical ethics.
“Traditional medical ethics embraces the norm that doctors … must not kill their patients. This norm is often seen as absolute and universal. In contrast, we have argued that killing by itself is not morally wrong, although it is still morally wrong to cause total disability.”
Traditional ethicists have responded, warning that this stream of thought, now common in the medical community, will ultimately undermine the right of anyone to life or the protection of law, and will annihilate public trust in the medical profession.
“If this dreadful doctrine is permitted and practised it is impossible to conjure up the degradation to which it will lead,” said Anthony Ozimic, communications manager of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC). A physician “has but to certify his patients as unproductive and he receives the command to kill.”
Walter Sinnott-Armstrong a Duke University bioethicist and Franklin G. Miller, an ethicist with the National Institutes of Health, the federal health authority in the US, admitted that patients who are routinely declared dead for purposes of organ “harvesting” are in fact alive and that removing their organs kills them.
Pro-life objectors to the practice of “non-heart beating organ donation” have long argued that it is tantamount to murdering helpless patients, reducing human persons to mere organ farms. The article proposes, however, that this is simply not a problem. Killing a patient who has lost all functional “abilities” and autonomy, “cannot disrespect her autonomy, because she has no autonomy left. It also cannot be unfair to kill her if it does her no harm.”
“Killing by itself is not morally wrong,” the authors said, “although it is still morally wrong to cause total disability.” The problem with killing is “not that the act causes loss of life or consciousness but rather that the act causes loss of all remaining abilities.”
Ozimic called the paper “obnoxious” and warned that its authors have “forgotten the lessons of the 20th century,” referring to the utilitarianism-based eugenics programmes of the pre-war Nazi government.
Ozimic quoted the famous 1941 sermon of Clemens von Galen, Cardinal Archbishop of – known as the “Lion of Munster” for his opposition to the Nazi euthanasia programme: “Once admit the right to kill unproductive persons… then none of us can be sure of his life.”
Ozimic said that if it is allowed to continue the concept will spell the end of our current understanding of medicine as doing good for human persons.
“We shall be at the mercy of any committee that can put a man on the list of unproductives. There will be no police protection, no court to avenge the murder and inflict punishment upon the murderer. Who can have confidence in any doctor?”
But the article’s authors admit that the situation is already grave from the point of view of traditional medical ethics. The so-called “dead donor rule,” they say, is already “routinely violated” in transplant practice anyway.
In order to be consistent with “traditional medical ethics” the practice of organ transplants, already a multi-billion dollar international medical industry, would have to be stopped immediately. But stopping organ transplants on the mere grounds that it kills people, they said, would be “extremely harmful and unreasonable from an ethical point of view.”
Ozimic critiqued the paper, saying, “According to some doctor, or because of the decision of some committee, they have no longer a right to live because they are ‘unproductive citizens’.
“The opinion is that since they can no longer make money, they are obsolete machines, comparable with some old cow that can no longer give milk or some horse that has gone lame. What is the lot of unproductive machines and cattle? They are destroyed.” But men and women, Ozimic said, are neither machines nor cattle who can be discarded when they no longer serve someone else’s needs.
“Here we are dealing with human beings, with our neighbours, brothers and sisters, the poor and invalids . . . unproductive – perhaps! But have they, therefore, lost the right to live? Have you or I the right to exist only because we are ‘productive’?”
Shocking as it may sound to the layman’s ears, however, the article’s position is not unusual in the bioethics community. The notion that the value of human life is founded upon the individual’s abilities has become run-of-the-mill in universities and, more crucially, in hospital ethics committees. It was popularised by Peter Singer, the professor of ethics at Princeton University, who infamously proposed that parents have the power to convey personhood upon their newborn children and should be allowed to kill them at will.
The fixation on autonomy, one of the three “principles” that utilitarian secular bioethics regards as the ultimate indicators of human value, has driven much of the international pressure for legalised euthanasia. Around the world, secular bioethicists supported the killing of Terri Schindler Schiavo on the grounds that her “autonomy” was permanently impaired.
Experts have noted that this form of bioethics, as distinct from classical, Hippocratic medical ethics, has since the 1970s become the leading stream of thought in most medical organisations in developed countries. The movement has succeeded in legalising euthanasia in the Netherlands and Belgium and assisted suicide in three US states.
In addition to outright euthanasia and legalized assisted suicide, other means of killing patients are sneaking in under the legal radar in response to the demands of autonomy-obsessed Bioethics. “Terminal sedation” and death by dehydration or withdrawal of life-saving drugs and treatments have become common causes of death among elderly and disabled patients in the UK, Canada and across Europe.