Monday, September 3, 2012

re: Bioethics of Organ Donation (OSV, 8/19/12)

In Bioethics of Organ Donation (OSV, 8/19/12), kudos should go to Dr Peter Colosi of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary for calling attention to Pope John Paul II's August 2000 address to the International Transplantation Society.  The late Holy Father indeed stated that
  • "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 with the essential elements of a sound anthropology." 
Pointing to the monumental significance of the word "seem" in that sentence, Colosi rightly notes that
  • "If further knowledge reveals that brain death does seem to conflict with a sound anthropology, this would remove the moral certainty referred to later in the quotation, and it would follow that vital organ donations should not be done."
Yet even assuming that brain death criteria are "rigorously applied," questions linger about the legitimacy of those criteria.  While Colosi notes that Dr. John Haas (a moral theologian) believes that "brain dead people (whole brain death) are [indeed] dead," he acknowledges that two other members of the Pontifical Academy for Life - Dr. Paul Byrne (a physician) and Josef Seifert (a philosopher) - have cast doubt on brain death criteria.  I would like to add that at least two additional members of the Pontifical Academy for Life - Judie Brown (founder of the American Life League) and Mercedes Arzu Wilson (president of the Family of the Americas) - have shown themselves to share the doubts of Byrne and Seifert.  In fact, Arzu Wilson has rhetorically and disturbingly asked:
  • "Is the Roman Catholic Church in imminent danger of becoming an accomplice in the sacrificing of 'brain dead' donors before their natural end? Many Catholic scientists, physicians, philosophers, and theologians are in deep anguish at having to plead with the Church's leadership to stop high-ranking Vatican officials from openly supporting the theory that 'brain death' constitutes a person's natural end. Such support would sanction the removal of organs from patients who are still alive"....
  • "In November 2008, an International Congress entitled 'A Gift for Life' was organized by the Pontifical Academy for Life, in collaboration with the World Federation of Catholic Medical Associations and the Italian National Transplant Centre....the Scientific Committee of the conference included individuals actively involved in the billion-dollar business of organ transplantation, such as presidents of European and Italian transplant societies. It also included Transplantation Societies of Europe and Canada, a 'Catholic' bioethics center from the USA (not an official entity of the Catholic Church) that is aggressively in favor of 'brain death' as true death, and others of similar special interests"(Save The "Brain Dead" Victims, The Wanderer, 2009).

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