The New Jersey Register — the official publication for New Jersey’s government — said May 15 that the board wanted to “facilitate organ transplantation” and to “minimize the risk that patients would be kept on life-support systems for longer than necessary.”
Both moves are meant to avoid delay in removing organs that are prone to deteriorate quickly after death. But Catholics and other pro-lifers are alarmed.
“My gut reaction is that there is
reason to be concerned,” said Legionary Father Thomas Berg, executive director
of the Westchester Institute for Ethics and the Human Person, commenting on the
“It plainly does raise certain
concerns,” said Robert George, the McCormick professor of jurisprudence at
Pacholcyzk, a neuroscientist and director of
education of the
“There is always a need for checks and balances,” he said.
But Judith Waterman, spokeswoman for the Medical Society of New Jersey, said better technology permits an easier diagnosis.
“The way things exist now, there must be a family physician and a neurologist,” she said. “But the quality of tests have so improved that it tells us more. Personally, I think that with a specialist and tests, it’s equal to what it was before.”
According to Waterman, it sometimes takes hours before two physicians can make the brain-death certification.
“It takes time because neurologists are not that plentiful,” she said.
But others worry that the proposal is for ulterior motives.
“There are elements in the profession who may want to vouchsafe the removal of organs from a person whose state is questionable,” said Father Berg.
Other countries have uniform
national standards that must be met to declare a peron brain dead. Currently, in the
The problem, according to Marie
Hilliard, director of bioethics and public policy at the
The consequence seems to be that a person who agreed to be an organ donor in case of accident, for example, could end up having his organs removed before he is certainly dead, thereby killing him, simply because the standard for brain death is not strict in the state where the accident occurred..
People who are interested in finding out what their local brain death determination is can contact their local organ procurement organization.
Ethicists who want to euthanize patients prior to death are hardly on the fringe. Many are well-known and well-published.
a leading medical ethicist in
Father Berg wonders whether Doyal’s proposal is not linked to the growing desire to “harvest” organs faster.
“There is a mentality growing in some sectors of the medical community — and even the public at large — that would condone the removal of organs from living human beings whose brain function is either undeveloped or compromised, for example, persons in a persistent vegetative state or even the harvesting of organs from early fetuses. There is clearly a movement in this direction,” he said.
The medical world believes that brain death — the death of the higher and lower functions of the brain — equals the death of the person. The Church teaches that organs can be removed only after the fact of death has been properly ascertained.
But what counts as an acceptable
criterion for determining death? Pope John Paul II emphasized this point when
he spoke to the International Transplantation Society in
“Specifically, this consists in establishing, according to clearly determined parameters commonly held by the international scientific community, the complete and irreversible cessation of all brain activity (in the cerebrum, cerebellum and brain stem). This is then considered the sign that the individual organism has lost its integrative capacity,” he said.
When some people speak about brain
death being the cessation of activity of the brain’s higher functions, they are
often speaking about the cortex, which is part of the cerebrum, where conscious
activity takes place, said Father Berg. Others, however, when referring to the
cessation of the brain’s “higher function” mean the whole cerebrum and
cerebellum, he said. The ethicist said there is no easy way to correlate the
Organ transplantation, according to the Pope John Paul, is a noble gesture when done without reward. However, it is to be avoided under certain circumstances.
“Any procedure that tends to commercialize human organs … must be considered morally unacceptable, because to use the body as an ‘object’ is to violate the dignity of the human person,” he said during the same address. “Methods that fail to respect the dignity and value of the person are always to be avoided.”
But it is precisely some of these
methods that certain members of the medical community are calling for.
He also called for exceptions to the “dead donor rule,” considered sacrosanct within the medical profession, which permits organ procurement only from a dead person and forbids the killing of a person in order to collect his organs.
Support for alternative definitions of death is widespread among professional bioethicists who support abortion and embryonic stem cell research.
“The reason for this support is
the tendency to identify the value of a human life with self-awareness,
consciousness and immediately exercisable capacity for rational thought,” said
During the same April 20 session
at the President’s Council, Richard Epstein, director of the Law and Economics
Program at the University of Chicago Law School,
called for the creation of a market whereby organs could be purchased and sold.
At this point in time, all such requests have been officially denied by the
medical community in the
When the Board of Medical Examiners was questioned as to whether this proposal had to do with collecting organs faster, they said they had no further comments.
“This proposal lets the traditional criteria for brain death stay. But by allowing the call to be made by one doctor instead of two, it authorizes cheating,” said George. “It is a virtual invitation to physicians to kill people while pretending to certify death.”
Sabrina Arena Ferrisi
is based in Mamaroneck,