Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Children Are Starving

Please do not read this if you are sensitive to impolite ideas.

The classic response to a child who does not wish to eat his dinner is that children are starving in other parts of the world. This assurance is supposed to make the child realize that he is lucky to have boiled peas, and should therefore want to eat them.

Of course, this gambit is rarely successful in its psychological aim. The child, if he has any spunk and kindness at all, must think, I have this thing I do not want; why could I not give it to someone who is starving and wants it? And this is the psychological response of the suicide when thinking about those who wish to live, but can't.

From the United States Department of Health and Human Services:
The number of people needing a transplant continues to rise faster than the number of donors. About 3,700 transplant candidates are added to the national waiting list each month. Each day, about 77 people receive organ transplants. However, 18 people die each day waiting for transplants that can't take place because of the shortage of donated organs. There are now more than 92,000 people on the waiting list.

From the Centers for Disease Control:

More than 32,000 suicides occurred in the U.S. [in 2004]. This is the equivalent of 89 suicides per day; one suicide every 16 minutes or 11.05 suicides per 100,000 population.

There is an added dimension to the messy, painful ethical problem of suicide that is rarely spoken of, and which it may well be crass to speak of. It is the fact that there are far more completed suicides than there are people who are waiting for organ transplants. Every day, a massive number of people pray for death (and around 89 of them actually die); but, every day, a smaller number of people pray for life. Rarely can those with unwanted life - suicides - donate organs to those who want to live, but need organs. Those who would defend a suicide prohibition - a prohibition on physician-assisted suicides for non-terminally-ill patients - must realize that this prohibition essentially leads to the unwanted death of thousands. The organ transplant shortage could be completely eradicated, I argue, if the suicide prohibition were lifted. Organ donation need not be mandatory for a person to qualify for physician-assisted suicide, of course, and care must be taken that it is not coerced. But coercion into remaining alive is a fact of life in our current system, and also the unwanted death of thousands of people in need of organ transplants. It is crass to mention it, it is impolite to talk about it. Perhaps only a would-be suicide, lying awake at night and wishing for death, and sorry for those who desire life and can't keep it, would even think such a scandalous thought.


  1. I have read that the average organ-donor provides for the needs of three patients after his death. This surely includes non-vital things like cornea-transplants, but still: one lost life saves more than only one life. Also, if there was a way to plan this beforehand I think it is sure to assume that the benefit would be above average, because there would be more time to arrange things than in case of, for example, a deadly accident.
    Unfortunately the suicide-prohibition (what a proper term!) even forces people to die in ways that greatly diminish the chance that their organs can be used to help others who long for life because they must make sure that they are not found too early etc.

    So. Scandalous as it may sound, by forcing live on people who wish to die, society at the same time sentences those to death who could be saved if only they could get the needed organtransplant.

    Sure there could be problems of abuse that would need to be addressed. They might even be very difficult problems - but they might also be resolveable. They will not even be discussed by anybody but a fringe-minority though, because that would require that suicide be considered a legitimate option in the first place.

    You last sentence makes me extra-sad.

  2. It makes a great deal of sense to me,if there could be a way of setting up suicide wards in, or adjacent to hospitals, the organs need not go to waste.I don't believe this would encourage suicide. This will never happen though.


Tweets by @TheViewFromHell