Gisela Meyer 's Story

Organ retrieval prevents human beings from dying in dignity and deprives them of the last farewell.

I didn't know that. Organ donation I thought is good because it helps others. And of course the person is dead when his organs are taken. The donor card says, "after my death". I would never have believed before that doctors keep a dying patient with a damaged brain alive by applying extreme medical treatment in order to remove the vital organs.

What happened to us?

In 1991 our son Lorenz had an accident. He was fifteen years old, tall, had a good sense of humour, was full of energy and joy of life, healthy and good-looking. When skiing his head got severely hurt. But his face and body looked intact. Only the ventilator was alarming. I believed he would open his eyes again and prayed fervently for his cure. After a sleepless night I was told on the corridor by the doctor that my son was dead and he asked us to think about organ donation. They needed his heart, liver, kidneys, and eyes, and we should have decided by the following morning - then he left. For a moment I trembled heavily and didn't know what was going on. Our son hadn't changed as far as we could see. He was still taken care of, his catheter was emptied, he even got a temporary rash and moved his leg when we touched him, he got medicine - I thought in order to cure him.

It was only later that I got to know that even before they had diagnosed his "brain death" all the care and medical treatment were meant for others. They no longer treated him as the human being Lorenz but instead they treated him like recycling material. In his files - we got access to only with the help of a lawyer - it reads as follows: "The parents saw the body of the dead patient who was further attached to a respirator and who had a spontaneous heartbeat." - "As it seems the parents did not understand that their son was already dead when they saw him."

So we were the dupes! But we saw what was real: our living child and so we did not give up hoping for his cure. They went on asking us about organ donation. I felt like being in a vice getting closer and closer. Finally I agreed to the donation of his kidneys but they didn't stop urging us to donate the other organs, too. Several times they asked us to donate his eyes until in the end my husband cried, "No! No!"

We consented to the retrieval of his kidneys believing that they would remove them after the respirator had been stopped. After giving our consent they told us that would be impossible. We got no further information and weren't able to ask any questions. They put us off until later when we could bid him farewell. He would lie in state in the ward.

It has been torturing me ever since that I didn't frighten the doctors off at this very moment and didn't take sides with my dying child. I felt guilty about the misfortune of my child so that I broke down and couldn't frighten the doctors off. And if I didn't give in they would even blame me for the deaths of others. I didn't understand what was happening but felt I was in their hands, was shocked, incapable of doing anything and was in need of protection myself. Not even the hospital chaplain understood my misery. I felt what he expected me to do. He acted in the interest of the doctors and of unknown organ recipients instead of taking care of us, who were entrusted to him.

When we returned to the hospital later I hoped I would see Lorenz again and the nightmare would be over. But another shock followed. The nurse on duty didn't know about us and their promise to lay our child out in the ward. But as we were standing there stupefied they finally let us enter the mortuary of the hospital. First I didn't recognize him. When going nearer to him it flashed through my mind, "He suffered pain!" His face looked small, his former full lips were thin and clenched. His eyes were plastered and his hair was wet. Had they taken his eyes against our will? I had to find out but my husband, being in panic, prevented me from doing so and dragged me away. We ran off from our disfigured child, mute, without leave-taking, feeling guilty.

In Lorenz' medical report we read that he had got a local anaesthesia. Had he moved during the operation? Had the doctor realized that he reacted in pain? Even in his process of dying he had to suffer the worst. I have attended many dying persons and have seen dead people, privately and as a nurse. I know that dying is a process. And I don't believe the claim that so called "brain dead" persons can't feel any pain after having seen the face of my dead child.

This is what shocks me: I could not be with my child during his last lifetime due to his organ retrieval operation. How can a mother leave her child when it is ill? I have to face the fact that I left him in the hour of his death. Lorenz was not able to call, "Stay with me!" When my brother died two years before Lorenz' accident I could keep this promise my brother had asked me for. When he died I felt how comforting it is to take care of a dying person and I experienced that mourning is made easier when you have done the possible for a beloved one. And in the hour of death there is often the intuition there is something else beyond life on earth. All this is irrelevant for the transplantation medicine.

This is what shocks me: the falseness. In the hymnbooks of the Christian Churches you can find special texts for attending dying persons. In their public speeches the church officials (like Bishop Lehmann) stand up for attending dying persons. Why do they let it happen that helpless human beings are treated in such an undignified way when it's about organ removal?

This is what shocks me: the cruelty. Although everyone knows that dying is a process though you normally do the possible to treat dying persons with care though you try to relieve their pain and promise them not to leave them in a state when they cannot react - when it's a matter of organ retrieval a dying and helpless human being is put on a stretcher and taken to the operating table and sometimes even transported to another hospital. This dying person is being harvested while he is still attached to the respirator, while his heart beats and the circulation works. And they even take the last bit of dignity by giving him a number instead of his name. The human being Lorenz Meyer became the number LS 005-91. His end is simply described as follows: "End of heartbeat (by the cold infusion) and of respiration."

It is a comfort for me that the hospice movement is growing worldwide and thus the protection of dying persons. I do hope that doctors will recognize they have got onto the wrong track with organ transplantation and that they will invest all their know-how into better medical treatments.

Gisela Meyer

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