Our Sunday Visitor (OSV) devoted four pages to vital organ transplantation (8/19/2012), mostly in promotion of organ “donation.” According to OSV, “Some medical doctors and theologians doubt brain-dead donors are actually dead.” A declaration of “brain death” indicates no doubt about true death; the patient is living evidenced by a beating heart with circulation and respiration. It is not biologically or medically sound to apply the word “death” to such a patient. Would anyone with common sense embalm, cremate, or bury someone when the heart is beating with circulation and respiration?
The brain is not necessary for the heart to beat. The heart is a sophisticated organ with its own “little brain.” It has its own nervous system and muscles. The beating of the heart begins in the heart. The nerves within the heart connect to every muscle fiber of the heart. The intrinsic nervous system senses when to pump and when the heart has pumped enough and needs to stop. Then the pump turns off and gets ready to pump again. The beating of the heart is intrinsic to the heart without input from the brain in everyone, including the person from whom the healthy heart is taken during transplantation and the one who receives the heart.
Patients declared “brain dead” or “heart dead” are living, but they have organs that someone stronger and more powerful desires for transplantation. In “heart death,” the patient has an obviously functioning brain. The relatives are persuaded to give a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order. Ventilator is then taken away. The living patient is observed until the pulse is not strong enough to be detected or palpated. Note that the heart is beating, but not strong enough for a pulse to be observed. The time without a pulse is 75 seconds or five minutes, depending on the institution. What is the hurry? The reason is that organs must be healthy for transplantation. Can healthy organs for transplantation be found in a cadaver? No! If the organs are without circulation and respiration for more than five minutes before cutting into the patient to take the organs, the heart and other vital organs are damaged, thus they cannot be transplanted.
If the heart is beating with circulation and respiration, can that someone who has been declared “brain dead” or “heart dead” be embalmed, buried, or put into the fire of a crematory? No! Does a declaration of death make someone dead? No! A doctor ought not to declare death while the heart is beating with circulation and respiration.
Any doctor who is worth his salt would not declare death and begin the autopsy on a person with a beating heart, respiration, and circulation. Any priest who is worth his salt would not deny baptism to someone with a beating heart, circulation, and respiration (assuming that this is an infant of Catholic parents or an adult scheduled for baptism next Sunday). If the priest can baptize, can he accept and theologically authorize cutting into the chest of this same person to cut out the beating heart for transplantation into another person? Every heart that is transplanted is a healthy heart taken from a living person who is killed in the process.
Human life is in the whole body, not just in a functioning brain. “Brain death” is not true death; it never was, and never will be. Organ harvesting is a multi-billion dollar anti-life industry.
For Catholics, the Catechism of the Catholic Church 2296, includes, “Organ donation after death (Latin, post mortem) is a noble and meritorious act.” Note that it is stated “after death.” Can it be “after death” while the heart is beating with circulation and respiration? No! Who would put a person into the fire of a crematory while the heart was beating with circulation and respiration? It would be cruel to do so.
Pope Benedict XVI stated on November 7, 2008, “Individual vital organs cannot be extracted except ex cadavere.” Pope Benedict XVI used Latin to specifically state from a dead body. His Holiness knows that a living body must go through true death (Latin, mors vera) to be a dead body, which is rightly called a cadaver or corpse. After death, meaning true death, words like cadaver and corpse have real meaning. A patient with a beating heart, circulation, and respiration does not qualify as cadaver or corpse.
It would be evil euthanasia to inject a high concentration of potassium into a vein of a person with a beating heart, circulation, and respiration. Such potassium in the vein would stop the heart, circulation, and respiration immediately. This would be killing. The heart would stop immediately as it does when the beating heart is stopped and taken out of the living donor. Yes, proponents of unpaired vital organ taking are responsible for imposing death on the donor.
Dr. Paul Byrne has been a practicing physician for 54 years and is the president of Life Guardian Foundation. He is board certified in pediatrics and neonatology, and a clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of Toledo College of Medicine. He has written numerous articles on life issues in medical and law journals, as well as lay literature on topics including abortion, brain death, organ transplantation, and imposed death.
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