The study was published in the December 2022 issue American Journal of Transplantation finds that Canada leads the world in harvesting organs from those who received medical assistance in dying.
A total of 286 people who requested euthanasia in Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain donated organs to save 837 lives, the study found. Almost half of those donors, 136, came from Canada.
Patients who choose to die from cancer cannot be organ donors because of the drugs they usually take. Usable donors suffered from diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis.
Arthur Shaffer, director of the Center for Professional and Applied Ethics at the University of Manitoba, is pleased with the results of the report.
“I was quite proud to learn that Canadian patients receiving medical care in dying were given the opportunity to make something morally meaningful out of their death by choosing to give life to other patients with their organs,” he said.
Nicole Scheidle, executive director of Ottawa-based Physicians for Life, had a different reaction.
“I was shocked,” she said. “I also think it really undermines the scope of organ donation in this country.”
Scheidl, a longtime opponent of any form of euthanasia, said it reminded him of the alleged harvesting of organs from executed prisoners in places like the People’s Republic of China.
“I think people are concerned,” he said. “I know that the transplant groups will want to make sure that the individuals euthanized were not coerced.”
Scheidl added that more questions need to be asked about euthanasia in Canada. He said there isn’t enough oversight or data collection and it’s expanding too quickly.
Victoria-based lawyer Chris Considine represented Sue Rodriguez, who suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and made global headlines in the early 1990s for seeking medical treatment that was then denied by the Supreme Court of Canada.
He said the use of organs from patients receiving medical assistance in dying, also known as MAID, was something he considered at the time.
“I knew it would take 20 years for the law to change,” he said. “And that society will then gradually adapt the law to its needs and based on the experiences of Canadians and doctors with MAID.”
Shaffer said that in the future, boards approving medical aid in dying should be required to notify organizations that counsel patients about organ donation.
“There should be no conflict of interest,” Shaffer said. “There should not even be a hint or suggestion that perhaps the patient was rushed into requesting MAID or receiving MAID sooner than they would have liked to because; doctors want to take their organs.”
MAID has been legal in Canada since 2016. The Canadian government is expected to delay a planned expansion of a law that would make euthanasia available to those with severe mental health problems.