Tuesday, January 03, 2017


Just short of 14 years ago now, I had a relative in ICU in need of a liver.  One of the nurses told me, "It's Friday.  It's a good night to need a liver."  She was talking about motorcycle accidents.

My relative was the top name on a seven (?) state list for liver transplants.  If it didn't happen that night, it wasn't going to happen.  I was cognizant then of the fact that our hope that he'd get a liver meant that some other family was going to have to go through what we were hoping not to have to go through.  I remember being in that ICU, wondering if it was OK to "pray for a liver" knowing that that really meant "pray for someone else's death".

It didn't happen that night.  We went through it instead, and several other families had their prayers answered.

I wonder if, some day, our descendants will look back on us with the same horror with which we look back on bloodletters--"Can you believe they took organs out of one person and put them in another person?"  Perhaps they'll look back on us with the same horror with which we look back on slave owners--"Can you believe they thought it was OK to kill unborn children?"  Our medicine isn't really advanced at all.  Will our descendants look back on us as barbarians? 

Then I came across this article.  It's bad enough to keep one person alive at the expense of another, it's quite another to all but lament that not so many people will be dying anymore:
One of the most highly-lauded advantages of self-driving cars is that a world filled with interconnected autonomous vehicles will significantly reduce the number of traffic accidents and resulting deaths. But this comes with an unintentional consequence: fewer organs will be available to hospitals for patients who need transplants...

We don't have enough donated organs to take care of the patients who need transplants as it is, and one in five organs used in transplants come from vehicular accidents. When the number of automotive-related deaths plummets from self-driving cars, one of the most reliable sources of healthy human organs and tissues will plummet as well. Most analyses suggest that autonomous vehicles will eventually prevent over half of the 35,000 deaths that occur on American roads each year, and some reports are much more optimistic...

It's morbid, but it's a reality of life—dead but otherwise healthy people are perfect organ donors. As the number of people seeking a transplant rises, self-driving cars are going to save the patients' otherwise-donors from an accident.
I guess "morbid" is one word for thinking this way.


Unknown said...

I can appreciate the feelings that you had about praying for a transplant. I felt the same way when praying for a relative of a man who was very important in my life.

Yes, talking about the lack of potential organ donors due to self driving cars is almost evil.

Mike Thiac said...

When Beth and I are driving around and we see someone on a motorcycle without a helmet, she points them out and says, "Look Mike, a future organ donor..."

In a more intellectual point, I think the author is a bit off on this. One, like many people, he seems to be optimistic on when self driving cars will be operational. Two, he is assuming that people will immediately rush out, trade in their vehicles, and buy this underpowered, no style, POS that costs orders of magnitude more than what I got (sorry, I have faith...). Three, assume you have a functional self driving car, there are other vehicles out there that will not be automatic (18 wheelers) and their will still be accidents. Four, I am not giving up my Road King anytime soon, and I think that is a safe assumption that most people with 2 or 3 wheelers, or drive a classic car, will stop due to the option of automatic cars.

So yes, accidents, and the "silver lining" of organs being donated from dead bodies, is not going away anytime soon.

Now this brings up something, why don't we allow people to sell their organs. Someone may be "offended" at the though of donating their lungs, heart or kidneys. However, you say "You kids will get 20K for each lung, 50K for the heart, 30K for each kidney..." their issue with donation may go away.

Or really radical, allow people to put their organs up for sale before death (hear me out here), where the collector says, "OK, for all your organs, I'll pay you 100K at death, or I'll give you 20K now, plus 30K to your family as death..." Just an idea to give to increase the supply of organs.