Ethical Issues Involved In Medicare-Funded Organ Transplants

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Ethical Issues Involved In Medicare-Funded Organ Transplants

Ethical Issues Involved In Medicare-Funded Organ Transplants


About 38 million people--some 33 million of them elderly and five million of them disabled--rely on Medicare, the federal government's health-insurance plan, for their health-care needs. But Medicare now faces a serious funding crisis. The program's outlays--what it spends on health care for its beneficiaries--are on the brink of surpassing its revenues. Unless it is fundamentally restructured, the program will no longer exist when most of today's high-school students reach retirement age in the year 2050 (Childress & Liverman, 2006). As health-care costs have skyrocketed in recent years, the question of how to reform the American health-care system, if at all, has been hotly debated. Almost all analysts agree that the U.S. medical establishment provides the highest quality medical care in the world (Sque & Payne, 2007). 


The U.S. population is aging, putting stress on Medicare, the federal government's health-insurance program for the elderly. By the year 2050, one in five Americans will be over 65, compared with one in eight today. The shortage of organs has been a problem for decades, and has prompted a variety of controversial proposals, including the suggestion that doctors harvest organs from death-row prisoners at the time of execution (Talbot et al., 2009). Although the organs from each executed prisoner could save eight or more lives, the idea of harvesting organs from prisoners sentenced to death has raised a variety of ethical questions that bear upon the nature of punishment, the rights of prisoners and the role physicians should play in society (Egendorf, 2009). 

Proposed spending reductions in Medicare and Medicaid, the government's health-insurance program for the poor and disabled, have touched off a national debate over the government's role in health care. Does the government have an ethical obligation to ensure that its citizens, especially elderly, disabled and poor have access to quality health care by legalizing the organ selling and using the organs of near to death prisoners?

Literature Review

The rising cost of health care and the increasing number of elderly Americans have driven Medicare to the brink of bankruptcy (Childress & Liverman, 2006). An average of nearly 10 people dies every day in the U.S. because they need an organ transplant and no organ is available. In 1996, nearly 4,000 people died while on waiting lists for a kidney, pancreas, liver, heart, lung or intestine (Potts & Herdman, 1997).

Most organs available for transplantation come from people who have sustained serious head injuries in car accidents that have left them brain-dead. In those tragic situations, family members of a brain-dead person are asked whether they give their consent for their relative to be removed from life-support systems and for his or her organs to be removed (Anderson, 2008). If a person's wishes to serve as an organ donor are well-known to family members before death, a family's consent can usually be obtained. But families may be so stricken with grief that they do not want to discuss organ donation and refuse to consider it (Brown, 2004). They may also hold cultural or religious beliefs that prevent them from allowing their relative's organs to be ...
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