The relentless, year-round “harvest” you may want to avoid

The calendar is turning the corner on 2014. And in most parts of the country, people are getting ready to prepare for Thanksgiving. Our neighbors to the north in Canada observed the holiday last month. They gather their harvest earlier, in light of the higher latitude and colder climate.

But today, I want to tell you about another kind of harvest. This “harvest” goes on relentlessly, year-round. And it feeds the burgeoning organ transplant industry.

A few years ago, I raised questions about the potential dangers of premature “harvesting” of organs. You see, the transplant industry has a growing propensity to harvest organs from donors who may still need them. And a growing propensity to harvest organs under circumstances which are otherwise inappropriate.

In this regard, the organ transplant team may have too much in common with the proverbial “grim reaper,” the black-robed figure who arrives with his scythe to gather up his toll.

In addition to the troubling reports in the medical literature, I was recently astounded in my personal experience when a former medical-legal professional consulted with me about a notorious, suspected homicide case in Pennsylvania that has just gone to trial.

The death occurred at a very active organ transplant hospital. Although homicidal poisoning was alleged, the eager transplant surgeons went ahead and removed vital organs even before the Medical Examiner was able to perform an autopsy. This rush to harvest made it impossible to conduct the complete post-mortem examination required by law. And it made it difficult or impossible to establish the actual cause of death.

Aside from the medical-legal issues, what doctor or patient would want to transplant organs that were possibly poisoned? And, just in the past month, I was consulted about another such case.

The ivory tower Ph.D. “medical ethicists” aid and abet the over-aggressive organ transplant industry. These “medical” ethicists don’t actually see any patients. But they help give wide license for this politically correct practice of “organ donation.”

Of course, your friendly, local Department of Motor Vehicles wants you to announce to the world that your organs are available for “harvest”–at a time when neither you nor your loved ones may be in a position to speak up for your own interests.

The truth is, organ transplantation is a lot more complicated than the public “feel-good” campaigns and all the medical-ethics talkers tell you.

Transplants save lives…temporarily

Transplants do provide temporary benefits to donors. But transplanted organs don’t last all that long.

For comparison, oncologists and cancer surgeons talk about five-year survival rates for their cancer patients. (Although they don’t apply to certain cancers, like breast cancer.) So let’s apply that standard to the major surgeries for organ transplant.

A transplanted lung or pancreas keeps working for five years in only about 52 to 57 percent of cases. A transplanted liver will keep going for five years in about 70 percent of cases–longer if the organ came from a so-called “living donor.” A transplanted heart keeps working for five years in about 75 percent of cases.

But remember, those are just five-year survival rates. Very often, even if patients make it to the five-year mark, they need another transplant several years later. And when you add a typical one-year interval for full recovery from a transplant, the numbers don’t look so good.

Serious safety concerns the “organ donor” industry doesn’t tell you at the local DMV

Transplanted organs can carry hidden threats such as viral, bacterial, fungal, and even parasitic diseases. Including West Nile, rabies and Hepatitis B and C viruses–all of which have made it through the laboratory screenings.

Each year 6,000 out of the 17,000 Americans with liver failure have liver transplants. But if you get a liver transplant for the common reason of hepatitis C, the new healthy liver can become infected once inside the body, since the viruses continue to circulate in the blood and can remain present in high concentrations in spleen and lymph nodes.

Going overseas to get a transplant doesn’t help the situation. The donor may be coerced. Plus, the organ is unlikely to match to your tissue type. And the risk of infection is even higher.

A study of California patients who went to China, Iran, and the Philippines for organ transplants found that 30 percent lost the new organ due to tissue rejection and 52 percent returned to the U.S. with severe infections.

Furthermore, living donors bear many unforeseen burdens.

No good deed goes unpunished

For example, donating a kidney or portion of your liver comes with surprisingly high costs. Typically, the donor has to bear costs that total between $5,000 and $20,000. These costs include pay and time lost from work, travel costs for surgery, medical care after the procedure, and unknown complications for recovery. And health insurance doesn’t usually cover these costs.

A donor may also experience changes in eligibility and rate increases for their health insurance and life insurance. Obamacare is supposed to ensure that you can’t be denied health insurance. But a 2014 survey (four years after Obamacare was forced through Congress) revealed that in many cases living kidney donors were turned down for health insurance coverage. Others were charged higher premiums for health insurance and life insurance after donating.

The organ transplant industry needs to clean up its practices, both literally and figuratively, for the public to have more confidence in this aggressive, expensive, radical approach to managing health.

Until that happens, don’t let some bureaucrat at the DMV force you to sign your life away by adding that “Organ Donor” icon to your driver’s license. Someday, you may still need the organ(s) that you just donated when there is no one around to stick up for you.


  1. “10 Things Your Doctor Won’t Tell You About Organ Transplants,” Everyday Health ( 9/10/2014