Rorate Caeli
What all Catholics should know on organ donation
Last month, our Holy Father made headlines when it was announced he no longer is listed as a organ donor. While the Church has never said organ donation is intrinsically evil, what happens in many if not most hospitals surely is, and many times amounts to murder.

For those interested in this topic, and possibly wondering if they should be be listed as an organ donor, there are two fine works to read and listen to before making a decision (or to reverse a decision already made):

The first, here, is from the SSPX.

The second, a podcast
here, is from a FSSP priest.
And please remember to follow @RorateCaeli on Twitter.

35 comments:

Matthew said...

Is this all organ transplantation or just those from "cadaver" sources?

My sister donated one of her kidneys to our father almost 2 years ago.

Christopher J. Paulitz said...

It's in reference to organ donation upon "death." Not donation from one living family member to another.

Anonymous said...

BTW, another, earlier sermon worth hearing:
http://www.audiosancto.org/sermon/20050807-Brain-Dead-Dead-Means-the-Soul-Has-Left-the-Body.html

Anonymous said...

Praise the Lord, I was thinking about this early this morning as I lay in bed.

Then I came to Rorate and I find the answer to my questions.

God Bless you for posting this information,it should be available to everybody and I mean everybody especially Catholics and let's all of us make copies and let our love ones and friends know the evil of organ donation.

I personally believe it to be satanic.

God is Awesome, Thank you Lord!
Thank you Rorate Caeli

Jack said...

Please be aware that brain death and persistent vegetative state are NOT the same things, though they are frequently confused by the general public and in the mainstream media.

When true brain death occurs, somatic death follows in a matter of hours.

But a PVS can continue indefinitely with the usual sort of artificial life support: ventilators, feeding tubes, et al.

Christopher J. Paulitz said...

Listen to the podcast. Father explains exactly what death is and isn't.

Pascal said...

FYI:

Benedict XVI on organ donation and brain death:

http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches/2008/november/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20081107_acdlife_en.html

Anonymous said...

With due respect to the works done by SSPX, did Fr. Peter Scott complete and graduate from medical school?

B. said...

As an addition, especially for those who don't trust an SSPX source, here is an article that was co-authored by Bishops Bruskewitz and Vasa:
Are Organ Transplants Ever Morally Licit?

Gideon Ertner said...

I know the position of the FSSPX on this issue, but sorry - it is up to medical science to determine when a person is dead; not theologians. One neurosurgeon I know has referenced a statement to this effect by Pius XII. I will try to obtain it.

Bear in mind that theologians have never determined at what point an embryo is a living human being either, nor can they. Catholic theology simply holds that abortion is always illicit, but itself gives no reason why. In contrast, the mainstream of Catholic theology has for decades accepted brain death as a valid criterion for determining death. Doctors must have a conscientious approach to it, of course - as with every other clinical decision. But it must be our call to determine when people are dead, just like with all other clinical decisions, many of which may end up killing the patient if we are wrong. But people still trust us to make these decisions.

It is not Catholic dogma that death can only be identified by complete cardiorespiratory collapse. Sorry. It is not. Show me where the Popes, the Fathers, the Councils or the Catechism say any such thing. The cardiorespiratory criterion for death is itself far from infallible. I won't presume to know whether the neurological one is better, but that is a matter for science and not theology.

poeta said...

Since the soul is the organizing principle of the body, would it not seem that the only way to be absolutely certain the soul has left the body is when putrefaction begins?

Diane said...

Gideon, we do know when death is -- it's when the soul leaves the body and not a second before. And we know the soul leaves the body once and not a second before the body is dead.

Therefor, when someone is "brain dead" they still have their soul. And are indeed still alive.

The priest who recorded the podcast is not only once of the most learned priests frankly in the world, but is a trained scientist, so give him a chance.

B. said...

Jack:
When true brain death occurs, somatic death follows in a matter of hours.

and Gideon Ertner
In contrast, the mainstream of Catholic theology has for decades accepted brain death as a valid criterion for determining death.

Both of those statements do not correspond to the facts. Just take this example, of a woman who gave birth to a child three months after being decalred brain dead: http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2005-08-03-torres-obit_x.htm
This is not by any means the only case. Also note, that this woman was declared brain dead, and three months later she died and was declared dead. Being declared brain dead does not mean being declared dead. Being declared brain dead means that a doctor can take out your organs, but your heir can not get your house, money, etc. because legally(other than regarding your organs) you are still alive.

It is also not surprising that a pope or a council has never said when a person is dead because prior to the invention of brain death that was something that was common to all cultures and not disputed by anyone. However, brain dead people may receive the last ointment. As it is a teaching of the Church that the soul is immediately judged after the death of the person, this would make absolutely no sense if the person would be considered dead with certainty.

John McFarland said...

In the biographical squib on Fr. Peter Scott in the Angelus Press's "Best of Questions and Answers" (a collection I would strongly recommend), it says that he graduated (apparently from medical school) in 1980, and that he entered the seminary in 1982.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Ertner,

I do not disagree with everything you say, but I think some of your statements are based on flawed principles. For example, you refer to "medical science" and to "science" as opposed to "theology" in the question of who gets to determine when death has occurred. But "science" does not speak, nor does "theology". Scientists and theologians speak all the time in a process of argumentative reasoning in which there is always great disagreement. Neither science nor theology speaks with unanimity on anything; and if one day scientists or theologians were to speak with unanimity on this or any other topic, it would not for one second mean that the issue in question must be adopted by the Catholic Church, which is not, thank God, reducible to its "theologians".

On the contrary, those responsible for advising the Pope listen to all of the arguments put forward by the variety of scientists and theologians, and then the relevant authority of the Holy See makes, when they feel the issue is clear, a judgment on the morality or immorality of a given act. Thus, no absolute authority is ever to be given to "scientists" (lacking the grace of state and perhaps formation in Catholic moral teaching), nor to "theologians" (who themselves may lack scientific training and the grace fo state as well). They all give their opinions, and the hierarchy of the Church takes its time to listen and understand, and then finally to judge the issue.

John McFarland said...

Dear Mr. Ertner,

The teaching of the Church is that death occurs on the separation of the soul and the body.

This separation is an event that no human being -- including human beings with medical degrees -- can perceive; nor is there any principle of faith or reason that enables us to reliably infer its occurrence from bodily phenomena that we can see.

So in order to fulfill the Fifth Commandment, the Church must make a safe guess as to its occurrence.

Until the rise of organ transplants, there was not much controversy on the matter.

With the rise of organ transplants, there came incentives in the medical profession to override this safe guess; and so it was overridden.

Christopher J. Paulitz said...

Gideon, I think Father's point, in the podcast, is that many hospitals are pronouncing someone "dead" when the clearly are not, in order to get their organs. And that's murder.

I'm not saying there's not gray area. But Father's examples I think are pretty clear.

Jordanes551 said...

Bear in mind that theologians have never determined at what point an embryo is a living human being either, nor can they.

Wrong. Theologians have determined, through revelation and reason, that from the moment of ensoulment the existence of a human person begins.

The only question is when ensoulment takes place -- whether it is delayed (the traditional opinion) or happens at the moment a new human organism comes into existence (as modern science and theology indicates -- since the soul is the form of the body, and the body exhibits form at all times from conception until death).

Similarly, Catholic theology has determined, through revelation and reason, that death is the separation of soul and body. The only question is when this happens in individual cases, and as has been explained, so-called "brain death" is not necessarily (and probably rarely) the moment the soul separates from the body.

Catholic theology simply holds that abortion is always illicit, but itself gives no reason why.

Really? No reason why?

John McFarland said...

Dear Mr. Paulitz,

The real dynamic follows from the fact that once a person is dead in the traditional understanding, his organs are of no use for transplanting.

So the definition of clinical death was changed to "brain death," because the organs are still good if removed then.

You don't need an M.D. to see that the fact that the organs are still good for transplanting is evidence that the soul and body of the person from whom they are taken are still united.

At the bare minimum, this is hypocritical and gravely and sinfully rash. Because there's no way of being sure when "desoulment" takes place, I think it would rarely if ever be a matter of murder.

But it's clear enough that the medical profession doesn't care.

Gideon Ertner said...

Jordanes,

Theologians have determined, through revelation and reason, that from the moment of ensoulment the existence of a human person begins.

Yes, but my point was that we cannot say at what point in the formation of the embryo ensoulment occurs.

Theology at least does not necessarily presume that abortion is illicit because an embryo is a human being from the moment of conception. It is only in the modern age that most theologians have come to this conclusion. St. Thomas, for instance, assumed that ensoulment did not happen until 40 days after conception, but still accepted that abortion before that time was illicit.

Gideon Ertner said...

Diane,

"[We] do know when death is -- it's when the soul leaves the body and not a second before. And we know the soul leaves the body once and not a second before the body is dead. Therefor, when someone is "brain dead" they still have their soul. And are indeed still alive.

This is a complete non sequitur. Cf. my comment to Jordanes: my point was not that theologians cannot put up a theoretical definition of when death occurs, merely that they cannot determine what the biological signs are that this has occurred. This is a matter for medical specialists, as it always has been!

How do you presume to know that when a person is brain dead, they still have their soul? Would you presume to know that his soul leaves him when his heart stops beating? The fact is that we don't know that with any possible certainty, but we still treat persons with cardiac arrest as dead. Why is this not just as arbitrary as treating brain dead people as dead?

Gideon Ertner said...

Mr. McFarland,

[I]n order to fulfill the Fifth Commandment, the Church must make a safe guess as to its occurrence.

I agree with what you say. Not only the Church, but also doctors, most of the time can only make a safe guess. This is how it has always been. I think some of the controversy here stems from a misunderstanding of the process of declaring people dead.

Traditionally, there are in fact several ways of determining death that are used in different contexts:

1. An observation that a person has stopped breathing and does not have a pulse. This is the medical definition of cardiac arrest. The fact is that this cannot always be determined with certainty even by a medical professional. The heart may in fact still be beating, but at a rate too slow for it to be immediately detected. There may be a chance that the person can be resuscitated and perhaps even will resuscitate spontaneously. But such people are still treated as dead: if they are not fatally ill, an attempt will be made to resuscitate them; if they are critically ill and death is foreseen any drugs given to sustain life will be stopped.

2. An observation that a body has developed signs that have been medically defined as certain indications of death (e.g. rigor mortis or putrefaction). These can be ascertained with virtually 100% certainty by a trained medical professional, but not necessarily by laymen.

3. An observation that a body has sustained injuries that are obviously incompatible with life (e.g. decapitation). Any rational person can ascertain this with 100% certainty.

The criterion of brain death is thus only one among several possible processes of declaring people dead. It is not as certain as nos. 2 or 3 above, but the big question is whether it is as certain as no. 1. (the fact is that the process of determining brain death is vastly more meticulous than determining cardiac death). And even if it is not, could it still be certain enough to make it morally permissible to use?

Gideon Ertner said...

Mr. Paulitz,

"Father's point, in the podcast, is that many hospitals are pronouncing someone "dead" when the clearly are not, in order to get their organs. And that's murder."

I appreciate that very much. If true, it is despicable. But it is irrelevant to the morality of brain death and organ donation per se.

Gail said...

In answer to 'Anonymous' question re: Fr. Peter Scott. He did complete his degree and is a qualified doctor of medicine.

Diane said...

Gideon: "How do you presume to know that when a person is brain dead, they still have their soul? Would you presume to know that his soul leaves him when his heart stops beating? The fact is that we don't know that with any possible certainty, but we still treat persons with cardiac arrest as dead. Why is this not just as arbitrary as treating brain dead people as dead?"

You're proving much of Father's point. If you don't know, then you cannot take part in the harvesting of the organs, as that could be murdering someone still alive.

LeonG said...

"Bear in mind that theologians have never determined at what point an embryo is a living human being either, nor can they."

Where on earth did this nonsense come from? It is certainly not the Roman Catholic perspective.

Jamie said...

Mr Ertner - as you have said, no one knows for certain when an individual has died. Therefore, it is never okay to harvest organs until a clear sign of death occurs (corruption of the body).

Modern science is a sham - it ignores reason and bases its "knowledge" on observation - but observation is never able to take us to true knowledge.

B. said...

Gideon Ertner:
It is true that errors can be made diagnosing cardiac death, as well as diagnosing brain death. However, if cardiac death is diagnosed correctly, 2 and 3 follow automatically. This is not true for brain death.
The question is, brain dead the same thing as dead. If you say that the answer is yes this means that dead people
- have beating hearts and normal blood circulation
- have an active digestive system
- produce body heat
- can have wounds that heal
- can give birth to children

That surely is a strange definition of death. If you say that science can define when a person is dead, please imagine describing the conditions above to any doctor or scientist before 1960 and ask him if such a person could be dead. The answer would have been "no" unanimously. Were they all wrong? Now imagine that in 50 years from now science would determine that any person who does not answer when talked to is dead, would that make it true? If you asked any doctor or scientist today, the answer is "no" unanimously, but in 50 years...

John McFarland said...

Mr. Gertner's skepticism about the beginning of life reminds me of a piece on The New York Times op-ed page some years ago by Walker Percy (RIP), the novelist and another non-practicing M.D.

He said with barely concealed contempt that the only reason anyone ever said that the embryo wasn't a living human being was to justify abortion.

I think that it can likewise be said that the multiplication of "deaths" has no real purpose but the justification of organ harvesting.

Gideon Ertner said...

"However, if cardiac death is diagnosed correctly, 2 and 3 follow automatically. This is not true for brain death."

Yes it is. You have completely misunderstood the nature of brain death. Bear in mind that death is a process of successive events. In a not insignificant number of cases of death, brain stem failure is in fact naturally the first event that takes place in this process.

Brain death is defined as the complete and irreversible cessation of function of the brain, including the brain stem, the area that controls all basic physiological functions including the respiratory centre. The brain dead person, by definition, has no spontaneous respiratory function. If respiration is not sustained by a mechanical ventilator, the person would immediately cease breathing and cardiac arrest would inevitably ensue. Note the inevitability of this process: cardiac arrest will follow brain death with 100% certainty. There is no chance whatever that the person can be resuscitated (unlike with simple cardiac arrest). Mechanical ventilation merely prolongs the duration between brain stem failure and cardiovascular collapse artificially.

Gideon Ertner said...

Now I must moderate my earlier statements that theologians have no business determining at what point people are dead. Clearly it is the task of the theologians - or perhaps most properly the philosophers - to determine the metaphysical definition of death. The legitimacy of the brain death criterion ultimately rests upon its conformity with this definition. Here I claim no competence as a medical professional, and I see a great need for a debate here now that we have cleared up the misconceptions of brain death.

I think that many see the notion of brain death as grounded in the view - which is undoubtedly true - that brain stem failure is a point of no return: after this point there is no chance of stopping the process of death, even if it may be artificially prolonged. Cardiac arrest will set in after a few days despite ventilator treatment, although there are extremely rare examples of brain dead people being sustained for years with very aggressive treatment. As I have written above, brain stem failure is even more of a point of no return than cardiac arrest.

Of course the question is whether the fact that the body has reached a point where it is inevitably committed to death necessarily entails that the person has died. In many grave illnesses a person reaches a point after which death is inevitable long before consciousness, let alone cardiac function, is lost. The bodies of brain dead individuals (minus their brains) may be kept functioning for considerable lengths of time with very aggressive treatment, and may even in a sense be more 'healthy' than the bodies of undoubtedly alive persons with cancer. Thus the 'point of no return'-argument is not as persuasive at a closer look.

Yet even if this is so, can we really call this state of the body 'life'? I will have nothing to do with the argument that one must be 'conscious' in order to be a human person. But persons whose brain has been completely and irreversibly destroyed and who lack even the ability to trigger the most basic of bodily functions, i.e. breathing - in what sense can we speak of them as living persons? The body may be 'alive' and 'functional' in some sense, but it is utterly dependent on outside intervention for supplying even every single molecule of oxygen it needs. Persons in a persistent vegetative state are at least able to breathe themselves, something that brain dead people are intrinsically incapable of doing. In fact brain dead people lack any intrinsic capability to sustain their own bodily integrity. Does this not indicate that in whatever way the body may be said to function, ultimately it functions apart from any intrinsic life-sustaining spirit - and that thus the metaphysical definition of death employed by the Church is in fact fulfilled?

And then again... Jewish tradition holds that the blood is the life-giving principle, which would seem to indicate that as long as blood courses through the body the body is alive. This is also the intuitive perception of many people on this blog, when they question whether a body that grows and fights infections (all things that are made possible only through the delivery of nutrients to the cells by the blood) can really be said to be dead. I won't presume to know the answer, though I consider all these arguments worthy of consideration. But when the metaphysicists make up their minds, they will have to let it be up to me to tell them the medical consequences of their decision.

Gideon Ertner said...

"I think that it can likewise be said that the multiplication of "deaths" has no real purpose but the justification of organ harvesting."

I think that's a fair assessment - though keep in mind that abortion kills a person whose life has just begun, often for base reasons. Whereas in organ transplants, organs are taken from people who, if not dead already, will die with absolute certainty upon removal of their life support, in order to save the lives of people, often young people, who are terminally ill. Even if live donor transplants turn out to be morally indefensible, the two moral categories are still half a universe apart, like petty theft and genocide.

Anonymous said...

"The victim was rushed to Johns Hopkins Hospital and was on Aug. 17 was listed as brain dead. Police said he was kept alive so that doctors could harvest his organs. He was pronounced dead Aug. 20 at 5 a.m."

http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/crime/blog/2010/08/young_female_murder_suspect_ca.html

Anonymous said...

I think what Gideon Ertner says makes much sense to me. And I surely hope that those of you, who say that braindead people artificially kept alive are not suitable as donors because are still living, I wish nobody of you will really have to face the consequences of your convictions, when your young child is fighting for his life and cannot be helped but by a transplantation.. would you still refuse it, then?

John McFarland said...

Dear Anonymous 19:38,

If you are counseling us against casting the first stone, fair enough.

But casting the first stone IS on a different moral plane from conniving in the harvesting of organs from someone who may not be dead.