Grave robbing is a crime. What about retrieving vital organs from the dead without their prior consent?

Current Texas law permits nonvoluntary taking of organs from the dead. Texas legislators should prevent such ghoulish organ grabbing. All organs used for transplantation should be donated voluntarily.

Since 1969, the Federal Uniform Anatomical Gift Act recommends that organ donation results from a voluntary choice by the donor. Because the law prohibits the sale of organs, donation is an altruistic and praiseworthy gift to the recipient.

The demand for vital organs far exceeds the supply. We encourage organ donation in several ways. You can sign an organ donor card, check the box for organ donation on your driver’s license, indicate your desire to be an organ donor on your advance directive or simply tell your family what you desire when you die so they can speak for you.

Texas law follows the UAGA by recognizing your right to be a voluntary organ donor. But current Texas law also permits taking organs from dead persons who did not express a preference for or against being an organ donor after death. For example, in March 2016 a man who collapsed in a parking lot was taken to a hospital emergency room. The doctors’ attempt to resuscitate the man was unsuccessful. After he was determined to be brain dead, he remained on life support to maintain the viability of his vital organs.

An advocacy organization for organ transplantation petitioned a Houston judge to permit the hospital to take the man’s vital organs even though no one knew whether or not he wanted to be an organ donor. No relatives could be located. Under Texas law a hospital administrator or someone authorized to dispose of dead bodies may take organs from the dead for transplantation.

This aspect of Texas law violates the letter and the spirit of the UAGA. It undermines personal autonomy. It violates the right of voluntary personal choice whether or not to be an organ donor. Texas law permits the nonvoluntary taking rather than voluntary donation of vital organs for transplantation.

State Rep. Tom Oliverson has proposed a revision of Texas law to prohibit the nonvoluntary taking of organs from the dead whose preferences are unknown. Only a person, his agent or specified family members can give consent for an organ donation.

The Texas Legislature should immediately pass the proposed law to protect the personal autonomy and voluntary choice for each of us.

William J. Winslade

is a bioethicist who lives in Friendswood.


(1) comment

PD Hyatt

I for one thank God for people who give their organs to be transplanted after their demise.... I received one and am still alive because of it....

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