Let me be clear: This bill almost certainly won't pass.
But let me also be clear: It is chilling that it was introduced.
A Maryland state legislator has introduced a bill, HB 449, that would make it possible to take a single kidney or a liver lobe from an unconscious patient diagnosed as being in a "persistent vegetative state," for someone else's benefit, if a surrogate decision maker decided that this was in consonance with the patient's general beliefs.
Not Dead Yet has a good set of quotations from the recent hearing testimony against the bill and predicts that it won't pass.
From the halls of academe I hear word that undergraduate students openly and widely advocate taking organs, even to the point of killing the patient, from patients who are considered to be of less benefit to society than their organs would be.
Oh, you say, that's just undergraduate kids gassing. It is, but they got it from somewhere. And I ask: Do the high-falutin' "professional ethicists" have anything much to say against it? Or, even more, against this "moderate" bill that merely involves organ-farming severely cognitively disabled patients in (hopefully) non-lethal ways? Why not, from a utilitarian perspective? If it would add to the overall good of society. If the patient is not even conscious. And when we are even throwing a sop to the notion of self-determination by asking the surrogate to go to the mental effort to dream up an argument for approval from the patient's belief system. What do the Peter Singers and the Julian Savelescus of the world have to tell us about why HB 449 should not be passed?
Perhaps, at most, "Don't make too much noise too soon. You'll frighten the natives."
HT: Wesley J. Smith at Secondhand Smoke
Update: A commentator at Secondhand Smoke has given some interesting history of taking organs from incompetent people to benefit others. In particular, he notes the (disgraceful) Strunk v. Strunk and Little v. Little cases from the 1970's in which mentally incompetent patients were used by their parents (!) to donate a kidney to a sibling, and the courts allowed it. I think it plausible that, as the commentator implies, these set the stage for the Maryland proposal. However, I note various ways in which the Maryland proposal goes far beyond even those dreadful precedents.
The pretext in both cases was that it was in the best interests of the incompetent person to give a kidney to a sibling because the incompetent person would feel sad if the sibling died and was capable of understanding the concept of helping the sibling and would feel so happy about doing so.
I will say this, though: The court in Little cites some other cases in which such transplants were refused by courts partly on the grounds of no statutory authority for allowing them, plus some state statutes that don’t permit a guardian to give away the property of the incompetent as a donation. (Darn’ tootin’.)
So a law like the Maryland statute certainly removes a lot of uncertainty from such cases and gives a new and emphatic green light.
Plus, the Maryland statute doesn’t seem to be confined to cases of donating to family members. Moreover, since the patients in the Maryland statute are supposedly PVS, the whole allegation is that they aren’t experiencing anything; hence, by that reasoning, they couldn’t experience the alleged emotional benefits of donating and saving a family member’s life. All the arguments in Strunk and Little were connected to the allegation of a relationship between the incompetent person and the donee and the supposed benefit to the incompetent person of being a donor. Forced and implausible, to be sure, but the Maryland statute removes all such limitations.