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The truth behind
organ donation
& transplants

The truth behind organ donation & transplants

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… The truth behind organ donation & organ transplants

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The Nasty Side of Organ Transplanting.

Chapter 14

Deception by Organ Donor Agencies

“Until relatively recently (1992), as an ethicist, I was myself misled in this respect, having had brain death explained to me and seen it explained to donor families many times as the brain event equivalent of having been guillotined. Having now studied the medical literature I know that to be false, and more than that, it was known to be false as early as 1977 following the multi-center study funded by the National Institutes of Neurological Disease and Stroke.”

Nicholas, Tonti-Filippini.[89]

The least reliable sources for accurate transplant information are government organ donation agencies. They won’t tell the whole truth. They lack faith that people with a balanced understanding will sign up as organ donors. They prefer the used car salesman tactics of trickery and deceit to entice donor registration. They suspect that informed citizens knowing both the positive and negative aspects would avoid organ donation like the plague. So like the Australian Kidney Foundation they play the Give and Let Live fallacy.

"Give and Let Live” Fallacy

The Australian Kidney Foundation parks their caravans and trailers outside shopping centres throughout the country. They pretend to offer free blood pressure tests and kidney health advice.

I entered their caravan trailer in Rundle Mall, Adelaide, and before I’d uttered a word was hit with, “Do you want to be an organ donor”. I said, uh, no. The atmosphere turned heavy and the three staff clenched their mouths and stared at pieces of paper. I mentioned the blood pressure test which one woman performed angrily then, without indicating the result, returned to her piece of paper. Asked about the result she muttered, “okay", and “more exercise”. Their blood pressure tests and kidney health advice were a subterfuge to obtain donors.

Their promotional slogan Give & Let Live should be called “Sacrifice and Extend” because kidney transplants rarely save lives. They exchange dialysis for a transplant. Dialysis means having one’s blood filtered through a machine three times a week. It’s an unpleasant, unhealthy experience that means constant chemical and mineral imbalances. Patients won’t die in the immediate future from kidney failure as long as they get dialysis. It also means a shorter life span though some prefer it to a kidney transplant though neither option is pleasant.

Getting a kidney transplant means a more robust lifestyle and is generally preferred to dialysis though its drawback is immunosuppression illnesses.

Kidney failure devastates people’s lives especially Aboriginal people in the Australian outback. Noelene Lester told me at Port Augusta in 2005 that kidney donation was like a non-profit cottage industry and described her various relatives according to kidney status: recipient, living donor, “brain dead” donor, on dialysis and waiting for kidney, dead from renal failure.

Further north Aboriginal people have ceded land rights [90] to the town of Katherine in exchange for a kidney dialysis machine. [91]

Sleazy, Deceptive Language

Kidney Foundation donor cards say, “I request that after my death any part of my body be used in transplantation for the treatment of others.” Let us look at this language. The words, “I request” suggests the donor is asking a favour rather than making a generous response to the Foundation’s call for help. “After my death” doesn’t signify whether it is cardiac death with a cold, grey, stiff body or “brain death” where the heart continues to beat and the body remains soft and warm. The Australian Kidney Foundation promotion material doesn't explain the amount of body parts that may be removed. The phrase “Any part of my body” isn’t limited to the vital organs as Kidney Foundation material implies. It means absolutely anything. “For the treatment of others” doesn’t mean Give & Let Live: it means any treatment from a heart transplant to a nose job, sex change operation or changing breast size.

The Australian Kidney Foundation seeks consent before and not after potential donors understand what they are getting into.

The Special Donor Card

The South Australian Organ Donation Agency (SAODA) in 2000 was distributing a leaflet they knew was false. It said over 3500 children and adults were currently awaiting a life saving transplant in Australia. They knew this was false because statistics published by the agency showed that in July, 2000 only 2802 were waiting while the Victorian Donor Registry said just 2% were children.

And what of these lifesaving transplants? 1784 of the hopeful recipients were awaiting kidney transplants, where dialysis is exchanged for a transplant rather than for a lifesaving procedure. Another 745 hopeful recipients were old people waiting for cornea transplants to improve their eyesight but not to save their lives. This left just 273 waiting for a “lifesaving” transplant, 87 of which were waiting for livers despite many having ruined their livers through alcoholism and 30% from Hepatitis C via dirty needles.[92] 20% on the liver waiting list wanted second and third livers each of which has a higher failure rate than the previous.

This leaves 186 transplant hopefuls of whom 66 were waiting for a pancreas due to a diabetic condition often caused by unhealthy living and eating. Like kidney transplants pancreas grafts don’t save lives but only alleviate the need for pig and synthetic insulin. Graft survival rates average less than five years at which time the recipient may be demanding yet another pancreas.

This leaves 120 patients waiting for hearts and lungs of which 10% are on their second and third hearts. In any case, over half the heart recipients [93] will live longer if they don’t get a transplant, as explained in Mario Deng’s study. [94] . This leaves very people on the Australian transplant list whose lives will actually be saved by a transplant. Then we can ask: for how long and of what quality?

One might also question the so-called shortage of harvestable livers in Australia. The Queensland government was caught selling liver transplant packages, using Australian livers, to customers who fly in from Japan for the surgery.

The Japanese government paid for the surgery allowing the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane to maintain and improve its transplanting skills. It also made a small profit from the surgery, which also alleviates the government footing the bill, which would be the case if the livers were transplanted into Australians.

Wendy Edmond, then Queensland Health Minister, said, “There were actually spare livers for transplantation.” If this is true then one could reasonably question the extent of the shortage of livers in Australia or, perhaps, Australians were denied liver transplants because it was more profitable to sell them to the Japanese.[95]

18,000 Lives Saved?

The leaflet goes on to say, “Transplantation is a unique treatment which has saved the lives of over 18,000 Australians.” The truth is that 89% were kidney and cornea transplants and most of the other 11% died quite soon after surgery or within a few years from drug-induced cancer or organ rejection. For a tiny fraction of the total the “life saving” surgery temporarily extended their lives in a usually still sickened body. It wasn’t like pulling them from a raging river and then they went on to have long, healthy lives.

The leaflet avoids informing the donor at what point their bodies will be harvested and says organs are removed “when the brain function stops forever.” The magic word is “function”. Its use cleverly avoids acknowledging any definition of “brain death”. “When the brain function stops forever” means, in their language, that the ability of the brain and brain stem to maintain all vital bodily processes is severely impaired.

So when they say “brain function stops forever” they mean some parts of the brain that control vital bodily processes are dead, injured or dormant. The condition they refer to as, “brain function stops forever", is usually terminal within a few days though some parts are still alive on harvest day. Simply put, the prospective donor is agreeing to allow harvesting to begin on their body while their heart is still beating and other functions continue with the possibility that some consciousness may still reside in their being.

How Much Harvesting?

The leaflet says as many as nine people will benefit from the organ or tissue donation from one person. The promoters uncharacteristically minimise the figure because telling the actual number would expose what the transplant industry is hoping to do with the donor’s body.

One Australian government source in 1996 said up to 32 people receive parts from a corpse.

The United States record is 422 with the average being over one hundred recipients per donor.

And to whom were the promoters aiming their leaflet? The large, colourful picture on its front showed young people singing with upraised hands and closed eyes similar to that seen at Christian Revival meetings.

Donor Card Aimed At Children

The attached donor card on the above-mentioned leaflet distributed by the South Australian Organ Donation Agency was also aimed at children. The Gold Donor Card was designed like an ATM card with National Australia Bank emblazoned in large letters. Another emblem said “Donor Recipient Medical” despite the card being a donor card and not a recipient card.

The agreement to donate viscera, tendons, skin and organs said, The holder of this Gold Donor Card understands and appreciates the value of becoming an organ donor and has discussed this decision with their family. This innocuous language allows a child to pledge their body for organ harvesting without actually acknowledging it in writing. The harvest promoters target children away from their parents. Promoters cover themselves saying children must have parents or next of kin consent and this is merely a symbolic gesture of a child. They're right because hospital protocol allows parents or next of kin to veto or agree to donation regardless of a child’s intent.

But the promoter’s plan is to hit shocked and distressed parents with the line of, “your child would have wanted it.” Another reason for targeting children is to build up a pool of potential child organ donors as children have a low death rate and the transplant industry wants every kid it can get.

The Australian Transplant Awareness Association published the leaflet and donor card, but who are they? Karen Herbertt, then Executive Director of the South Australian Organ Donation Agency that distributed their material, told me in 2002 that she couldn’t remember. However, at least Karen would speak publicly. The new manager, Ms Kathy Hee, won't submit to an interview or even answer questions by email and barricades herself behind locked office doors. 

Media Collusion

The Organ Donor agencies don’t mind the media falsely interpreting the transplant industry. Dr David Hill, writing in the book, Beyond Brain Death, cites an instance when a child he knew had liver problems with a life expectancy of one year. Transplanters gave him three liver transplants which all failed and he died within a year. Despite the public expense and increased suffering of the child, whose life was not extended, the media hailed the three failed transplants as a victory of modern science.

Sunday Mail

In the Adelaide Sunday Mail of 3 September 2000 Robyn Riley erroneously reported that “2000 Australians needed a life-saving organ transplant” As shown above most of those hopefuls are awaiting non-lifesaving grafts. Robyn also said, “As many as 500 people died waiting.” Some transplant hopefuls, mostly on dialysis or awaiting corneas, may die during the year but usually from old age, car smashes, and traumatic injuries or from causes that a transplant wouldn’t have helped. But five hundred? Hardly, unless they joined a Senior Citizens Awaiting Transplants Cruise, the ship sank with no survivors, perhaps then, 500 could die on the waiting list, but not otherwise.

Choice Magazine

The Australian Consumers Association publishes Choice Magazine that analyses the quality of products and services. They test items like washing machines for noise, water and power use, operating costs, purchase price, reliability and quality of wash.

The August 2000 Choice ran an organ donation article which featured deaths on the waiting list, happy transplant stories, how to register for donation and listed addresses of donation agencies. Choice used euphemistic language describing skin, bone, ligaments, tendons and fascia as “tissue", which sounds like Kleenex or gift-wrap, rather than the smelly blood and guts material it is. Choice erroneously claimed kidney harvesting requires a beating heart, which is proven untrue by current Japanese kidney transplanting practices.

In their article Choice diverted from their usual product and service criticism by avoiding the negative aspects of transplanting. They neglected mention of the controversy of “brain death” diagnosis, that donors are paralysed and often anaesthetised before harvesting, that anti-rejection drugs cause AIDS-like immune deficiency diseases or that kidney transplants rarely save lives. The above could be forgiven since research in this field is difficult, expensive and time consuming. But what can’t be forgiven is that Choice didn’t say that Australian survival statistics are suppressed. They knew this because they had to use American statistics.

Choice staff wrote the article to promote transplanting rather describe the pros and cons of organ donation.

Time Magazine

You would expect Time Magazine with its vast resources to do better than Choice but they are similarly mesmerised by the technology and appear unable to provide an informative and balanced report.

The Time Australia edition of February 26, 2001[96] contained an article titled “Life Out Of Death” by Leora Moldofsky in which the same dreamland myths were propagated without question. Ms Moldofsky reported that Graeme Spencer of Canberra was waiting for a kidney and pancreas transplant then mourns in the following paragraph that “Spencer has a 5% chance of dying before suitable kidneys become available”. Graeme Spencer wanted one kidney and a pancreas, and the waiting time for a kidney alone is one to three years in Australia, (Australians Donate May, 1999). After receiving these organs his chance of dying during the first year will be 5.5%, according to American statistics from the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS). This is a higher death rate than if he misses out on the transplant so what are Time Magazine and Leora Moldofsky mourning about?

A statement by Graeme that, “There’s always hope I’ll be cured but it’s so frustrating that it hasn’t yet happened” goes unchecked by Time. Most medical experts will say a transplant is not a cure. It is exchanging one medical condition for another. The US rejection rate of a pancreas/kidney transplant for one year is 17.4% for the pancreas and 8.6% for the kidney so Graeme certainly won’t be cured. His body will probably kill the pancreas within five years and he may want another one requiring further surgery. Nor will he ever be free of illnesses accompanying the suppression of his immune system.

Time magazine uses tricky journalism where emotion-stirring life and death examples are recounted to trigger our compassion. Then it states that 2000 are on the waiting list neglecting to note that most of the 2000 are waiting for corneas to improve eyesight or for kidney transplants.

[89] Tonti-Filippini, Nicholas. Revising Brain Death: Cultural Imperialism,
Linacre Quarterly. Boston. May 1998

Nicholas served as health care ethicist for eight years at St Vincent’s Hospital, Melbourne, Australia

[93] Deng, Mario, C. BBC interview. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/904627.stm

Accessed 3 May 2007

[94] Deng, Mario C., Effect of receiving a heart transplant: analysis of a national cohort entered on to a waiting list, stratified by heart failure severity BMJ 2000;321:540-545 (2 September,2000) Available at British Medical Journal web site: www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/321/7260/540

Accessed 3 May 2007

[96] Time Magazine (Australian Edition), Life Out Of Death by Leora Moldofsky. Sydney, Australia. 26 February 2001

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