EWTN Catholic Q&A
re: organ donation (again)
Question from confused on 05-31-2013:

Hi Judie, The Church teaching that "Organ donation after death is a noble and meritorious act and is to be encouraged as a expression of generous solidarity" doesn't really seem that clear to me because as you said "ORGAN DONATION AFTER DEATH: This means the donor is truly dead, not still alive as is the case with many patients pronounced 'brain dead' which is not death at all." The Church is saying on one hand that organ donation is noble and generous and is encouraged, but on the other hand the Church is saying the patient must be truly dead. The two together don't seem possible at this time and the Church should recognize and confirm that this is an impossibility at this time and make that clear. Many people are donating or receiving vital organs every day and it doesn't seem possible that any of the donors are really dead because the vital organs wouldn't be viable if they were truly dead (at least not at this time). Or am I mistaken. Is there any instance where the patient is truly dead and vital organs are useable? Thank you and God Bless.

Answer by Judie Brown on 06-01-2013:

Dear Confused

The question of which organs can be donated without causing the death of the donor is answered in this way: the donation of a lung, a kidney or any paired organ does not jeoparize the life of the donor and can be a life-saving act for the patient.

However a beating heart that is stilled causes the donor to die. Thus the distinction.

Here is how Pope Benedict defined the situation: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches/2008/november/docu ments/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20081107_acdlife_en.html

"{It often happens that organ transplantation techniques take place with a totally free act on the part of the parents of patients in which death has been certified. In these cases, informed consent is the condition subject to freedom, for the transplant to have the characteristic of a gift and is not to be interpreted as an act of coercion or exploitation. It is helpful to remember, however, that the individual vital organs cannot be extracted except ex cadavere, which, moreover, possesses its own dignity that must be respected. In these years science has accomplished further progress in certifying the death of the patient. It is good, therefore, that the results attained receive the consent of the entire scientific community in order to further research for solutions that give certainty to all. In an area such as this, in fact, there cannot be the slightest suspicion of arbitration and where certainty has not been attained the principle of precaution must prevail. This is why it is useful to promote research and interdisciplinary reflection to place public opinion before the most transparent truth on the anthropological, social, ethical and juridical implications of the practice of transplantation.

"However, in these cases the principal criteria of respect for the life of the donator must always prevail so that the extraction of organs be performed only in the case of his/her true death (cf. Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 476). The act of love which is expressed with the gift on one's vital organs remains a genuine testimony of charity that is able to look beyond death so that life always wins. The recipient of this gesture must be well aware of its value. He is the receiver of a gift that goes far beyond the therapeutic benefit. In fact, what he/she receives, before being an organ, is a witness of love that must raise an equally generous response, so as to increase the culture of gift and free giving."

What is clear is that IF there is doubt about whether or not the patient is truly dead, a vital organ cannot be taken.

Judie Brown

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