A transplant surgeon in California had been accused of hastening the death of a severely disabled 25 year old patient in order to harvest his organs. He is said to have ordered far above the normal doses of pain-killing and sedative drugs, and even performed a sterilisation procedure normally carried out after death. In spite of this the patient survived for more than seven hours after being removed from life support when the time limit for organs to remain viable is only 30 minutes. He was returned to intensive care, where he died the next morning.
The case raises so many serious issues. Apart from the apparent illegality of a transplant surgeon being involved in the treatment of a potential organ donor, it also highlights the extraordinary pressure under which such work is done. Clearly the most stringent rules must be enforced to protect the vital needs of patients, especially where, as in this case, the donor's quality of life may be doubted. It also suggests to me that the clamour for a change in the law which would require that a person opt-out of organ donation rather than, as presently, opt-in, might not be in the best interests of the most vulnerable.