As a college ethics teacher, I have always tried to encourage my students to develop a reasoned argument that would support their position.
Many of my students quickly develop a syllogism designed to support their existing conclusions, only to be disappointed with my curt reply: “That sounds pretty impressive but did you start with the facts or is your argument based on false assumptions?”
The truth of the matter is good ethics is not just based on sound logic.
Ethicists know too well that moral decision-making requires a consideration of the facts, who is involved and what is being purposed.
Common ethical topics from abortion and capital punishment to affirmative action and global warming need a careful consideration of the facts. Myths and false assumptions kill any fruitful dialogue.
Organ donation, like many other issues, suffers from the weight of countless myths. As ethicists and well-informed Christians, we can help support organ and tissue donation by educating ourselves and addressing common misconceptions about donation.
One of the most common myths is that health care workers and hospitals will refuse to provide the highest quality of care in order to allow a patient to die and then recover the patient’s organs for transplantation.
The truth of the matter is that typically what is good for preserving the transplant ability of organs is the same thing that health care workers do in order to save or sustain the whole body.
Therefore, as health care workers are striving to use extraordinary means to save one’s life, they are also helping organ procurement organizations (OPOs) preserve the option of donation and the possibility of saving someone who is on an organ transplant waiting list.
Another common myth is that OPOs will attempt to recover organs from someone who is not dead.
With the exception of a living kidney or partial liver donation, the recovery of organs is limited to brain-dead donors or patients who have been without a pulse for a specific period of time.
Both options require either a brain death declaration or the cessation of circulation. In either case, the patient is legally dead.
The decades-old “Dead Donor Rule” prohibits anyone from recovering organs from a living patient that will cause the death of a patient. Therefore, the patient must be clearly dead prior to the recovery of organs.
Still another myth is that organ donation only supports the rich, making it an abusive and oppressive system.
Often people will cite the late Steve Jobs or former Vice President Dick Cheney as cases that support this assumption.
This myth, like many myths, has a kernel of truth, but it is not enough to deter donation.
Rich patients often have access to better health insurance and have more health care options, but Medicare and Medicaid, as well as a host of corporate insurance companies, finance organ transplantation.
In addition to the financing of transplantation, the transplant waiting lists are governed by the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), which ensures impartiality and the use of strict medical, not social, criteria.
One advantage that the rich have is the ability to choose clinics and in some cases be listed in more than one registry, but this only gives a slight advantage.
It is often forgotten that Steve Jobs waited for years to receive his liver transplant, and Cheney was listed for 22 months, far longer than the national median wait time for a heart (113 days).
Many more myths plague the subject of organ donation, ranging from the belief that it costs to donate to the assumption that one should be in perfect health in order to donate.
(There is never a cost to donate, and patients can donate organs and tissues well into advanced years and with a diversity of health problems.)
Like many moral issues, we face a lack of education and awareness, which is a large part of the problem.
Now is the time for us to join UNOS and OPOs across the country to reduce the number of patients (more than113,000) who are waiting for lifesaving organs.