Organ donation companies in Canada are targeting patients who want to end their lives by physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia. The Ottawa Citizen last week lauded the country’s “medical aid in dying” law as a boon for organ and tissue shortages. The newspaper reported that in the first 11 months of last year, “medically assisted” deaths in Ontario accounted for 113 organ and tissue donations, a 14 percent increase since 2018, and a 109 percent jump from 2017.
Canada decriminalized doctor-prescribed or -administered suicide in 2016. Since then, Ontario has contracted with Trillium Gift of Life Network, an organ- and tissue-procurement company, to actively solicit patients approved for assisted suicide. Ontario’s waiting list of people who need donated organs hovered at 1,600 people until this “relatively new source” for body parts surfaced, the newspaper reported.
Ontario is the first jurisdiction in the world that requires hospitals to notify Trillium of known imminent deaths, including by euthanasia. The company insists that patients’ choices to donate organs do not influence their decisions to end their lives. But Ronnie Gavsie, Trillium’s chief executive officer, praised patients who choose “death with dignity” and organ donation, saying they are “leaving a legacy.”
Euthanized patients made up 5 percent of all of Ontario’s organ and tissue donations last year, up from 3.6 percent in 2018 and 2.1 percent in 2017.
“The clear message being sent to suicidal ill and disabled Canadians—with the active support of the organ transplant community—is that their deaths can have greater value to Canada than their lives,” Wesley Smith, a senior fellow at Discovery Institute’s Center for Human Exceptionalism, wrote for the National Review.
Many ill and disabled patients in Canada who are donating their organs are not “imminently dying,” he noted, and they do not receive any suicide prevention services.
Some form of euthanasia is legal in Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and nine U.S. states plus the District of Columbia. Switzerland and the U.S. states that have approved physician-assisted suicide, in which a patient self-administers a deadly drug prescribed by a doctor, do not allow those patients to donate their organs.
“There is growing evidence that coercion plays a substantial role for many vulnerable people” considering assisted suicide, said John Smeaton, chief executive of the U.K.-based Society for the Protection of Unborn Children. “Conflating this decision with organ donation further complicates the issue of coercion.”
Some doctors are taking it a step further, pushing to harvest vital organs while patients are still alive, or death by donation. E. Wesley Ely, a pulmonary and critical care physician, wrote in a recent column for USA Today that the idea of carrying out euthanasia by placing donors under general anesthesia and surgically removing their vital organs while they are still living is gaining traction.
Similarly, two Canadian doctors and a Harvard Medical School ethicist recently wrote in The New England Journal of Medicine that procuring consenting patients’ organs while they are still alive “may be ethically preferable.”
“Everybody says, ‘Well, it can’t get any lower than it is,’” Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Canada-based Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, told LifeSite News. “But we’ll get lower than it is, because every time you break a new ethical barrier, it opens up a new question.”