Soylent green *UPDATED*

One of the most striking things about the Jewish Bible is the respect it demands for dead bodies. As a result, Jewish ritual holds that the dead cannot be mutilated in any way and must be interred as quickly as possible — preferably within 24 hours of death. Desecration is anathema to the Jews. Many people ascribe this respect to the Jewish belief in resurrection. Others though, believe that there is one other element to the requirement that bodies be treated with respect, which is the fact that the Jewish religion arose during pagan times — and pagans were deeply committed to body mutilation.

In pagan cultures, which had no separation between “church” and state, the religious leaders would routinely sacrifice people to the Gods and then, before or as part of the death process, the victims’ brains and internal organs would be ripped out by the priests for study and ritual cremation for the gods. (The story of Isaac is, as everyone knows, the definitive Biblical statement against human sacrifice.) Even if people weren’t deliberately sacrificed, but died for other reasons, the state priests could still desecrate the corpses for religious purposes. The instant burial required under Jewish law was almost certainly an effort to protect bodies from assault by pagan priests. To this day, religious Jews will not allow themselves to be cremated.

I was thinking of the pagan state’s interest ripping out the deads’ internal organs when I read this, out of England:

Gordon Brown has thrown his weight behind a move to allow hospitals to take organs from dead patients without explicit consent.

Writing in The Sunday Telegraph, the Prime Minister says that such a facility would save thousands of lives and that he hopes such a system can start this year.

The proposals would mean consent for organ donation after death would be automatically presumed, unless individuals had opted out of the national register or family members objected.

Pragmatically speaking, Brown is right — a lot of perfectly good human organs go to waste when they could be put to use in the living. Nevertheless, there is something creepy and frightening about the state harvesting dead bodies, and it made me think of Jews in pagan times. On the one hand, you had the Jews with their tremendous respect for humanity, and their rules aimed at elevating the human condition and, on the other hand, you had the pagans who viewed the body as something that could be folded, spindled and mutilated depending on how the priests interpreted the whims of the Gods.

The other reason to get worried about this proposal is the “soylent green” nature of it. Once the government gets into the business of harvesting body parts — especially if it’s the same government that runs the health care system — you might want to go somewhere other than a state hospital if you’re at imminent risk of death. Once in the hospital, you may discover to your cost that it’s cheaper for the government to let you die so that it can use your organs for someone who might subsequently be less of a burden on the health care system than you are. Indeed, the plan seems to be set up precisely to achieve that cost effective goal:

But patients’ groups said that they were “totally opposed” to Mr Brown’s plan, saying that it would take away patients’ rights over their own bodies.

There are more than 8,000 patients waiting for an organ donation and more than 1,000 a year die without receiving the organ that could save their lives.

The Government will launch an overhaul of the system next week, which will put pressure on doctors and nurses to identify more “potential organ donors” from dying patients. Hospitals will be rated for the number of deceased patients they “convert” into donors and doctors will be expected to identify potential donors earlier and alert donor co-ordinators as patients approach death. [The emphasis is mine because, if this isn’t scarily Orwellian, I truly don’t know what is.]

Organ donation can be a great gift and I honor those who decide to make it a part of their death. Nevertheless, I cannot conceive of a situation in which it should be anything but voluntary. Having the same government that provides medical treatment make the decision is the stuff of the worst kind of Utopian totalitarianism.

UPDATE: The above story was from the right leaning Telegraph, which presents the plan as something upsetting (something with which I agree). Here’s how the left leaning Guardian presents the same story, with the focus on the needy transplant recipients, not on the state’s increasing control over life, death and after death:

A revolution in the way organs are donated for transplant is called for today by the government’s chief medical officer as concern grows over the acute shortage of donors and the rise in unnecessary deaths.

An expert report to be published this week says that every major hospital in Britain must have an organ donor specialist skilled in persuading grieving families that the hearts, lungs, kidneys and other vital organs of their deceased relatives should be used to save the lives of others.

Sir Liam Donaldson, England’s chief medical officer, will back the findings of the government’s taskforce on organ donation, but wants to go further and introduce a new system of donation because the shortage of organs is so severe. Three people a day are dying while on the waiting list for a transplant as the demand for a new organ is rapidly outstripping their supply.

Donaldson is advocating a system of ‘presumed consent’, where everyone in Britain would be presumed to be a donor unless they had specifically opted out, or unless their families had objections.

‘We have one of the lowest rates [of organ donation] in Europe, far lower than Spain,’ he told The Observer. ‘We have one thousand or more patients dying on the waiting list each year, and there is a lot of suppressed demand, with doctors not even referring patients on to the list because there is no hope for them. That is a lot of patients dying.

‘I think at the moment people often don’t know whether their relative would have wanted to be a donor. Families are being approached when they are in a very distressed condition and, faced with uncertainty, their default position is to refuse consent. Often the quality of their dealing with clinical staff is not as good as it should be – the dialogue could be better. It does require considerable skill to handle such sensitive situations.’

Today we reveal the heartbreak of those who are waiting for organs and the uplifting stories of families who have consented to donate, and launch a campaign for the UK to move to the new system of presumed consent so that hundreds more lives can be saved.

As for me, having read that, I still find too Orwellian the thought of the government, in all its bureaucratic splendor, deciding who lives and who dies, and desecrating the dead in between those two extremes.


16 Responses

  1. Creating a State prerogative over the bodies of the dead, even for a nominally humanitarian purpose, will enormously increase the pressure for State-supervised euthanasia — with or without the consent of the honoree.

    The hell of it is, a lot of people will back this “presumed consent” notion. People want to live and be healthy, and the availability of organs for transplant is critical to the lives and well-being of many. But this fails to address the larger point: the rights of a man’s estate over his corpse, well established both in law and in custom for many moons.

    Atop that, we will shortly be treated to a fresh demonstration of a fundamental perversion of rights. Activists will claim, just as they have in their quest for socialized medicine, that it’s a matter of right: the “right to live.” But there is no such right. We do not have a “right to live” — that is, a right to have our lives extended as far as we please; we have the right to life: the right not to have our lives taken from us.

    Be vigilant.

  2. When the state takes responsibility for such decisions, they also take away our ability to do good. We no longer have to think about moral decisions. We are diminished.

  3. I’m an organ donor — have carried the card since it was made available…..maybe since I began driving in the early ’60s.

    However, if they do this “presumed consent” deal here in the U.S. of A., I will opt out, thank you. I’m seriously afraid of a system where the government has an interest in my death.


  4. When was the last time that reporters said that they weren’t there to cheerlead for the government? Or does that only apply to Bush and his wars?

  5. “Presumed consent”, you got to love how the Left views free will, Book. Or rather, the absence of free will. How can you consent when you never made that choice in the first place? Do petitioners consent to having their paperwork rejected by the state bureaucracy because they just didn’t happen to file the right documents?

  6. “We’re here for your liver.”

  7. I have had ‘no donor’ hand written on the back of my driver’s license for two years for the exact reason that you have addressed, BW. And I agree w/expat and resent the intrusion that takes away my ability to do good as I see it, not as someone else does.

  8. Another sad step forward in the creep towards the all powerful state. Even your body, and it’s organs are property of the state for the “common good.” That is really what this amounts to.

    Next step, watch for it, in a few years the ability to opt out will be constrained. That’s how it gets done, one small step at a time. They never stop.

    In the United States about 50% of the money spent on health care is for people in the last 3 years of their life. I would imagine a similar state of affairs exists in the UK. Let’s see, you’re expensive, our system is failing, we need organs… common good don’t you know.

  9. France already euthanized plenty of old folks in that heat wave a few years back. They’re just going to copy some Nazi tricks, using the Sharia mofos as an excuse.

  10. Ah, Y, I rarely disagree with you but I have to about this statement:
    “France already euthanized plenty of old folks in that heat wave a few years back.”

    I think neglect and incompetence are not the same as deliberate euthanasia. Yours is a startling quote – made me think! – but I think perhaps too glib.

    My usual concern is that as people come to rely more and more on the government to take care of them, that they become less and less capable of taking care of themselves. A severe heat wave is a dangerous situation. I have to wonder how many people died or suffered there due to passivity of waiting for government rather than banding together, finding a way to survive the situation themselves. (Similar to the Katrina debacle in NewOrleans in our own country.)

  11. […] [Discuss this article with Bookworm over at Bookworm Room…] Share Article Sphere: Related Content Trackback URL […]

  12. There was a chilling Science Fiction story years ago about a future where the punishment for traffic violations was having the offender’s organs harvested. The hospital was next door to the jail. I guess the future is near.
    Anyone for strengthening the Second Amendment?

  13. Mike D., to your point about France: many of the elderly died because their children were off on vacation content to let the government take care of their own parents, something any government is and will continue to be incapable of doing. Frankly, most of the elderly died because nobody in that socialist paradise bothered to check in on them. The fundamental truth of socialism is that it destroys the social fabric by making everything the government’s problem.

    Here’s another story – an elderly relative of mine in France suffered a heart attack on a Friday before a long weekend. The ambulance drivers apparently had already left on vacation, because it took 9 hours to find an ambulance to take her to the hospital. Another success story for the dream castle of socialized medicine that Michael Moore missed.

  14. I think neglect and incompetence are not the same as deliberate euthanasia. Yours is a startling quote – made me think! – but I think perhaps too glib.

    The government doesn’t do a lot of things “deliberately”, but that does not remove the fact that they did euthanize such folks and are responsible for such. Giving them water would have prolonged their misery, not giving them water when they needed it and when the state was responsible for giving it to them, can either be called voluntary manslaughter, murder, or euthanasia. Take your pick.

  15. While it may be possible to ascribe the respect due a corpse to differentiation between Judaism and paganism, the reason is simpler: There is a belief that humans were created in the image of God. Thus even a non-corporeal representatoin of God must be treated with respect.

    Still Halacha allows for the removal of organs for transplants if certain conditions are met. Life supersedes nearly all other consideratoins.

    I’m not arguing that the state should have the right to force people to donate their organs, just trying to present an accurate view of Halacha.

    For more see here especial starting at page 391 for some discussion of the issues involved.

  16. Al is thinking of “The Patchwork Girl” by Larry Niven.

    We should keep in mind what has happened in Holland with euthanasia which has indeed proven to be a very slippery slope.

    Exactly how long would it be before it turned out that Tories or other undesirables were being hastened to their deaths because some good lefties need a new liver.

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