Lives at stake? Seriously? Have you READ the regulations on diesel emissions? So, there's a few more nitrates, you are *burning* the diesel, where do the regulators expect this stuff to go? Basically you have to hobble the vehicle in order to pass US emissions tests. The only thing VW got by doing this was a leg up on the competition. (assuming the competition wasn't doing the same thing... time will tell)
No, you do not have to hobble the vehicle, you just have to use the same urea injection system that all the other manufacturers were already using but that VW was too cheap to use (and now does use anyway, because they couldn't find any other way to get the job done).