Organ Harvesting from Severely Disabled Babies in the UK Proposed: Is It Ethical?

Health In Focus   - G J E 4
A new proposal has been put forth in Britain where pregnant women with fetuses that are severely disabled and are sure to die at birth, and who wish to go in for an abortion, will be given support to continue their pregnancy so that the organs can be harvested and used for organ transplantation.
Organ Harvesting from Severely Disabled Babies in the UK Proposed: Is it Ethical?
Organ Harvesting from Severely Disabled Babies in the UK Proposed: Is It Ethical?

Organ donation has improved the quality of life of several individuals. Dying individuals have given the gift of life to others through their organs, which would have otherwise been reduced by the elements. However, due to lack of awareness, the list of people waiting for donated organs is much longer than the organs available.

‘Nurturing severely disabled babies for organ harvesting can have serious ethical issues.’
Due to this shortage, a new proposal by NHS transplant surgeons in Britain suggests harvesting organs from disabled newborns. There are fatal illnesses like anencephaly or absence of the brain, or a genetic disorder called trisomy 18 where the fetus cannot survive after delivery. Once diagnosed during early pregnancy, several women go ahead and abort the fetus. The new proposal suggests that the National Health System in the United Kingdom should support these pregnancies till delivery. Once the baby is declared brain dead after birth, the organs can be harvested and used to save several other lives. This process could help bridge the ever increasing gap between organ donors and people requiring transplants.

On the flip side, several ethical issues have been raised regarding this new proposal. The fetus is supported through the pregnancy only to die at birth so that other individuals may benefit. Another doubt that this proposal raises is, what if the child does not die at birth? Will the child be given adequate medical facilities to keep it alive? Also, having a severely disabled child will be traumatic for the parents as well, who may have preferred to abort the baby at an early age.

The decision, which will be left in the hands of the parents, will indeed be a difficult one to take. This will be especially at a time when the mother is already undergoing the trauma of conceiving a severely disabled baby.

This new suggestion is unlikely to be passed due to the grave ethical concerns it raises. If ethics of this aspect is deemed right, it will open a Pandora's box on many fetal related issues where usage of their organs or tissues can save lives or enhance them. For example, there was a case where a woman who had a husband with a neurodegenerative disorder was told that fetal brain tissue could be implanted in her husband's brain to cure the disorder. She readily agreed to conceive and abort her fetus at an early stage to help her husband, but was disallowed to do so.

The best current method to increase organ donation is to increase awareness about the ability to give life and continue to live even after death.

Source: Medindia

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