Sunday, September 21, 2008

Organ & Tissue Donation

While generally very positive about transplants, the Vatican’s 1995 Charter for Health Care Workers offered some vital considerations: "In homoplastic transplants, organs may be taken either from a living donor or from a corpse.

  • 86. In the first case the removal is legitimate provided it is a question of organs of which the explant would not constitute a serious and irreparable impairment for the donor....
  • 87. In the second case we are no longer concerned with a living person but a corpse.... There must be certainty, however, that it is a corpse, to ensure that the removal of organs does not cause or even hasten death. The removal of organs from a corpse is legitimate when the certain death of the donor has been ascertained....In order that a person be considered a corpse, it is enough that cerebral death of the donor be ascertained....
  • 88. Ethically, not all organs can be donated. The brain and the gonads may not be transplanted because they ensure the personal and procreative identity respectively. These are organs which embody the characteristic uniqueness of the person, which medicine is bound to protect."

Subsequent to the Charter, Professor William May (Catholic Bioethics and the Gift of Human Life, Huntington, Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor, 6/29/00)was among those who questioned the validity of the so-called "brain death" criteria -or at least how it was being applied. In his 8/29/00 address to the International Congress on Transplants, Pope John Paul II quickly responded: "the criterion adopted in more recent times for ascertaining the fact of death, namely the complete and irreversible cessation of all brain activity, if rigorously applied, does not seem to conflict....Only where such certainty exists, & where informed consent has already been given by the donor or the donor's legitimate representatives, is it morally right to initiate the technical procedures...for the removal of organs for transplant."

A growing number seems to be questioning whether the Holy Father's criteria are truly applied - or even if it is possible to apply them. Among those physicians and others are Fr. David Albert Jones of the Linacre Centre for Healthcare Ethics and Bishops Fabian Bruskewitz and Robert F. Vasa. They commented on the Pope's address in a 2000 Statement Opposing Brain Death Criteria ("'Brain Death' - Enemy of Life and Truth“; <>), maintaining that

  • “None of the shifting sets of 'so-called neurological criterion' for determining death fulfills the Pope's requirement that they be 'rigorously applied' to ascertain 'the complete & irreversible cessation of all brain activity'....
  • "For vital organs to be suitable... they must be living organs removed from living human beings....persons condemned to death as 'brain dead' are not 'certainly dead' but, to the contrary, are certainly alive....
  • "adherence to the restrictions stipulated by the Pope & the prohibitions imposed by God Himself in the Natural Moral Law precludes the transplantation of unpaired vital organs, an act which causes the death of the 'donor' & violates the fifth commandment of the divine Decalogue, 'Thou shalt not kill' (Deut. 5:17)."

As reported on 9/5/08 by John Weston, "The Pontifical Academy for Life (PAV), the World Federation of Catholic Medical Associations (FIAMC), and the Italian National Transplant Centre (CNT) are sponsoring a conference on organ donation for November 6-8 in Rome....several official members of the Pontifical Academy for Life (PAV), appointments to which are made by the Pope, have written the head of the Academy, Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella, demanding that the organ donation-promoting conference be cancelled....The controversy hit the front page of the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano this week with an editorial by Professor Lucetta Scaraffia, vice-president of the Italian Association for Science and Life and a member of the Italian National Committee on Bio-Ethics. The editorial noted that a declaration of 'brain death' cannot be considered the end of life in light of new scientific research....Such a determination would prohibit single vitalorgan donation, such as heart transplants, for Catholics or Catholic institutions, since Catholic teaching requires such organ donors to be truly Professor Scaraffia points out in L'Osservatore Romano, in the Vatican itself 'the certification of brain death is not used'....Beyond the members of the Pontifical Academies, various members of the Catholic hierarchy openly oppose the notion that 'brain death' constitutes true death. Lincoln Nebraska Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz, Kansas City- St. Joseph Bishop Robert Finn, and Baker Oregon Bishop Robert Vasa have all publicly opposed the 'brain death' definition....many Catholic will be watching the November Vatican conference on organ donation - should it not be cancelled. Of particular importance will be the speech the Pope is set to give to conference participants on the final day of the proceedings" <>

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