Mon, Mar 14, 2011 - Page 8 News List

End using inmates for transplants

By Lee Yuan-teh 李源德

I would like to state my objection to transplants using organs taken from executed death-row inmates.

First, murder is cruel and in violation of nature. It is generally an irrational act, committed by someone not in their right mind. There is nothing natural about the premature taking of a life. All of the above is true of the taking of a life through execution, except, of course, for the introduction of the element of premeditation. Both involve denying someone their life.

Everyone must die in the end and we will all shuffle off this mortal coil sooner or later. If we despise murderers for the way they deny their victims their natural lifespan, how can we turn around and do the same thing, albeit under the auspices of the legal death penalty?

Using the organs of executed convicts for transplants is not completely in line with medical ethics, even though it can mean that the recipients of the organs temporarily escape death. The convict’s organs are removed under artificial conditions: The donor is killed because of the implementation of the death penalty and because there happens to be someone with the same blood type in need of an organ.

How is this not manslaughter? The good that comes of these donations may well make violations of procedural justice more palatable, but it doesn’t change the fact that the violations exist.

Ever since President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) officially signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in May 2009, Taiwan has built a name as a country that upholds human rights. Regarding the last round of executions, Minister of Justice Tseng Yung-fu (曾勇夫) said during a question-and-answer session in the Legislative Yuan that there was “a chance” the death sentence would be implemented this month. After the executions, he simply argued that his ministry acted in accordance with the law.

Not only did his comments betray a disregard for the gravity of death, they also elicited protests from the international community. Over the course of my practice, I have often witnessed bitter struggles and helplessness in the face of a natural death and have seen patients and their loved ones cherishing their final moments together. However, just as the government apologized for the wrongful execution of Chiang Kuo-ching (江國慶) in 1997, the abrupt announcement of the March 4 executions brought the debate of life and death crashing back to the table.

The current method of execution in Taiwan is death by shooting. In order to bring about the complete cessation of cardiopulmonary functions, the bullet must breach the brain’s cardiopulmonary center. Shooting is simply not accurate enough to achieve this in all cases.

According to the literature, medical professionals participating in executions stated that even if they gave the convicts a heavy dose of tranquillizer first to try to make it easier on the individual, convicts would still twitch for about 15 minutes and even cry out. It can then take extra injections of gallamine and potassium chloride to stop their hearts beating completely. If they are shot in the heart, they might struggle for nearly 10 minutes, despite cardiac rupture and bleeding.

I dare not imagine how recipients feel about accepting organs that have undergone such a process. Daisy Hung (洪蘭), chairwoman of the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at National Central University, once said that patients refuse convicts’ organs because of a serious lack of scientific knowledge. However, that is not the only explanation. People without actual clinical experience do not understand how patients feel about such things. For all these reasons I would like to call on Taiwan to abandon the extremely controversial practice of using organs from executed convicts for transplants.

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