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Legend: Doctors let die those patients who've indicated they'll donate their organs.
Origins: Most people find the process of contemplating their eventual deaths quite disturbing, which is why so many put off making wills, taking out life insurance, discussing with the godparent they've selected for their children their hopes for their offspring, or making pre-need arrangements (the "pay before you go" plan) with funeral homes. That same reluctance attaches to the question of organ donation; many people put off making such decision out of distaste for having to admit to themselves that they too must someday die.
While in the abstract organ donation is a reasonable idea by which parts no longer needed by person one are put to use in the rescue of another, some potential donors shy away from it in the specific because it's far too unsettling an outcome for them to make their peace with: The notion of their corporeal bodies being cut into after death and their organs being removed is gruesome enough all on its own, but when coupled with the realization that the items so procured will be installed into entirely different people (indeed, total strangers), the full "ick" reaction sets in. Organ donation is seen by some as a cold process in which doctors reduce what had so very recently been living, breathing, sentient individuals down to mere reclaimable parts, in effect placing a value on the people that used to be as no more than the worth of what can be recycled from their bodies.
While the rumor would appear to confirm the belief that physicians involved in harvesting organs will happily sacrifice one patient in their efforts to secure parts for others, such belief overlooks one particular facet of this conjecture: Doctors who fail to provide their best medical care to their patients can and will be sued. As professional healers, they are held to a higher legal "standard of care" than is the average person and thus aren't afforded the luxury in life or death situations of not attempting to do all in their power to save those whose lives hang in the balance. Additionally, in those instances where patients died, doctors who did decide to scale back care could well be charged with homicide.
The United Network for Organ Sharing says about the rumor of doctors' slacking off when working on potential organ donors:
Myth: If emergency room doctors know you're an organ donor, they won't work as hard to save you.Not everyone who dies in an emergency room is a viable candidate for organ donation. When it comes to harvesting transplantable material, time is so very often of the essence. Proper removal, storage, and shipment of such organs can take place only within a very limited window of opportunity. For this reason, those who have been pronounced brain dead and are on ventilators make the best candidates. That's why organ donors are usually accident victims with severe head injuries or people who have suffered catastrophic brain damage from natural causes such as a stroke.
Fact: If you are sick or injured and admitted to the hospital, the number one priority is to save your life. Organ donation can only be considered after brain death has been declared by a physician. Many states have adopted legislation allowing individuals to legally designate their wish to be a donor should brain death occur, although in many states Organ Procurement Organizations also require consent from the donor's family.
Prior to the 1970s, "donation after cardiac death" (DCD) was the standard; the cessation and
This controversial approach to the procurement of usable organs has resulted in a marked increase in the number of organs collected and therefore in the number of transplants completed; however, some feel it has done so by sacrificing the best interests of the donors who are hurried through death's door. There is also potential for family members to feel pressured into terminating life-sustaining treatments they otherwise would have continued, as well as the specter of surgeons hovering over the about-to-expire, scalpels in hand, a mental image that borders on the macabre.
The "wait five minutes before proceeding" standard is also more of a guideline than a rule: doctors at some hospitals wait three minutes, others two. In Denver, surgeons at Children's Hospital wait only
The rumor about organ-hungry doctors prematurely offing potential donors gained an unfortunate shot in the arm from a 2006 case in San Luis Obispo, California.
Ruben Navarro, a 25-year-old man who suffered from the neurological disorder adrenoleukodystrophy as a child (by his early 20s his mental and physical condition had deteriorated to a point where he was placed in an assisted-care facility), was admitted lifeless and unresponsive to the Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center on
Prosecutors charged Dr.
Roozrokh's attorney argued Navarro "was going to die shortly, whether in minutes or in hours" and said of the excessive painkillers used that "In that situation, you err on the side of ensuring that he's pain-free." Over-medicating the dying with morphine is not at all a new practice; terminal patients are sometimes given unusually high or overly-frequent doses of the drug in an effort (generally unstated but also generally understood by both medical staff and family members in attendance) to help the dying slip through death's door a bit more quickly and thus terminate sufferers' torments sooner. Such practice is generally roundly denied when spoken of openly, however.
In December 2008, Dr. Roozrokh was found not guilty of dependent adult abuse, a felony that carries a prison sentence of up to four years.
David Fleming, the executive director of Donate Life America, a nonprofit group that promotes donations, said this isolated case has "given some support to the myths and misperceptions we spend an inordinate amount of time telling people won't happen."
Barbara "the lone disarranger" Mikkelson
Last updated: 2 November 2011
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