The Sunday Edition

The benefits and perils of organ donation after assisted death

It has been over a year since assisted death became legal in Canada, but doctors, lawyers and bioethicists are still debating many of the details. Should assisted death patients should be allowed to donate their organs?
Over a year after assisted death became legal in Canada, there are ongoing ethical concerns over whether assisted death patients should be allowed to donate their organs -- and to designate the recipients. (Shutterstock)
Listen27:15

It has been over a year since assisted death became legal in Canada, but doctors, lawyers and bioethicists are still debating many of the details.

One area of ongoing ethical concern is the question of whether assisted death patients should be allowed to donate their organs.

No federal law currently prohibits them from doing so, but the process is complicated and varies from province to province.

Some bioethicists worry that allowing organ donation after assisted death may give people an additional incentive to end their lives, and that vulnerable patients could be pressured into giving up their organs for the good of society.

Others believe that denying people the chance to help patients on the transplant list, and to find meaning at the end of their lives, is paternalistic and counterproductive.

We cannot ignore that there's some part of the public which remains really uncomfortable about medical aid in dying, and concerned that vulnerable people will perceive themselves to be a burden, and that they should just get out of the way and be of use to other people.- Jennifer Chandler

Some bioethicists worry that allowing assisted death patients to donate organ gives people additional incentive to end their lives. Others say denying them the right is paternalistic and takes away their chance to find meaning at the end of their lives. (CBC)
The Sunday Edition host Michael Enright spoke with two experts about the complexities of combining organ donation and medical assistance in dying.

Dr. James Downar is a critical and palliative care physician in Toronto and has a master's degree in bioethics. He performs assisted deaths.

Jennifer Chandler is Professor of Law at the University of Ottawa, where she holds the Bertram Loeb Research Chair. Her research focuses on the legal and ethical aspects of biomedical science and technology.

I don't think any organ donation organization in Canada wanted to touch this issue with a twelve-foot pole. It was actually the requests of individuals wanting to donate that really brought this to the fore. The question isn't, why should we allow this? [It's] give me one reason why we should not.- Dr. James Downar

Click 'listen' above to hear the full discussion.