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 highranking 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.
When is a human being actually dead? How do medical professionals know if a human being is dead?
In his article “‘ The Least of These’: A Christian Moral Appraisal Of Vital Organ Procurement From ‘ Brain- Dead’ Patients,”
which was published in the spring 2004 issue of Ethics & Medicine, Stephen N. Nelson wrote,
“ The ability to distinguish living human beings from dead human beings has important medical, legal, social, religious, metaphysical, and metaphorical implications.”
More important, what standard do they use to make such a final determination?
And more important still, how does the law define “ death”?
After all, virtually everyone has heard about people who were wheeled into the morgue, only to sit up and ask for something to drink.
This is a rare occurrence to be sure, but it does happen from time to time.
The standard used to determine “ death” has changed quite significantly over the years.
As our knowledge of human anatomy grows and technology allowing us to look inside the body expands,
both the legal and medical professions have had to adapt.
We used to declare a person dead upon the cessation of his vital bodily functions, primarily breathing and heartbeat.
But once we began to “ bring back to life” those pe ople who had stopped breathing and whose hearts had stopped beating,
it was clear we could no longer rely on such an “ antiquated,” but commonsense standard.
Origin Of The “Brain Death” Theory “ Brain death” did not originate or develop by way of application of the scientific method.
A heart transplant took place in South Africa in 1967. Three days later, after the transplant, a beating heart was cut out of a newborn baby in Brooklyn, N. Y.
There were 150 hearts transplanted between 1967 and 1968.
It was a desire to make heart transplantation “ morally” acceptable and legal that led to the invention of the Ad Hoc Committee of the Harvard Medical School
to Examine the Definition of Brain Death.
The primary purpose of the Harvard Committee was not to determine if irreversible coma was an appropriate criterion for death
but to see to it that it was established as a new criterion for death.
The purpose was to make it medically and legally acceptable to get beating hearts for transplantation.
The committee report, entitled, “A Definition of Irreversible Coma,” was published in 1968 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Missing from the Harvard Committee’s report were the most basic scientific studies, patient data, and references,
as well as the numerous objections from honest, conscientious physicians who participated in the committee and strongly objected to the definition of “ brain death” as true death.
In other words, there was serious lack of scientific method in the origination and later development of the brain- related criteria.
The translation of “ comatose” into “dead” was first accomplished with the publication of the Harvard Criteria.
The change in definitions was based on a lie.
It is important to keep in mind that only someone alive can be in a coma, even when the condition is said to be “ irreversible.”
Neither the term “ coma” nor the phrase “ comatose state” can be applied to someone who is actually dead. ( 1)
BY MERCEDES ARZU WILSON