Brain Death: Let us remain faithful to the principle of precaution

Even when a patient has clinically died, as indicated by the absence of all signs of life, we should remain humble before the mystery of God’s creation, and not presuppose to know with certainty the exact moment when the soul has left the body.

(Image: Colynary Media/

The Catholic Church is clear that life begins at conception. The exact moment of death is harder to determine. The Church teaches in the Catechism that at death “life is changed, not ended,” and that death represents the moment of “the separation of the soul from the body.”

In 1968, the term “brain death” was introduced by a Harvard Medical School committee with the definition “irreversible coma as a new criterion for death.” Since that time there has been much debate whether this is a valid definition of death, and whether the soul has indeed separated from the body in a “brain-dead” patient. If it has not, then to declare persons “brain dead” who are not in actuality dead risks the violation of their inherent dignity, for if their organs are harvested for transplantation purposes this would be the cause of their lives ending.

This subject has become a controversial topic and unfortunately, at times, a source of discord within the Catholic community. However, an amiable and honest exchange of views between persons who disagree is beneficial, for it helps everyone to discover the truth. In this spirit, we turn to a reflective discussion on “brain death” in an attempt to discover truth, knowing as we do that Truth has a face, which is the face of the Son of God. We Catholics stand together opposing the relativism of our age, which often discards truth, or avoids truth if it disagrees with what someone else believes. But the definitive words of our Lord to Pilate speak to us now, “For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” Therefore, as together we Catholics pursue truth with regard to the validity of “brain death,” let us look to Christ who is the Truth.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches,

Being in the image of God, the human individual possesses the dignity of a person, who is not just something, but someone. He is capable of self-knowledge, of self-possession and of freely giving himself and entering into communion with other persons. And he is called by grace to a covenant with the Creator, to offer Him a response of faith and love that no other creature can give in his stead.” (No. 357)

This dignity is not predicated on our intelligence, stage of development, health, wealth, or skin color. God pronounces each of us very good, and loves us infinitely. As such, human persons can never lose their dignity; they can only be treated in an undignified way.

Our Catholic faith teaches us that the human person is a being both physical and spiritual, formed by the substantial union of body and soul. We are a body-soul composite – we have a material component (the body) and an immaterial component (the soul), which are seamlessly integrated to form a single nature. God creates and instantaneously infuses the soul into the body to create each new human person. This unity is so profound that we consider the soul to be the “form” of the body, allowing it to function as a coherent whole. Our faith teaches that it is because of the spiritual soul that the body becomes a living, human body, and that this union forms a single nature. The soul is indivisible, and as such, wherever it is present, it must be present in its entirety. Moreover, it acts directly on the body, without any intermediary. Therefore, the soul is present in its entirety throughout the whole body.

Some Catholic scholars have claimed that in mature humans the brain is the “master part,” that it alone is capable of integrating the body. In a recent article, our respected brothers in Christ, Bishop Michael Olson and Jason Eberl, state that: “A functioning brain is the material condition for the soul to inform a human body.” This would seem to indicate that if the brain ceases to function, the soul can no longer be present, and the body is therefore no longer integrated. However, this claim is inconsistent with the empirical medical evidence for many, if not most, “brain-dead” patients demonstrate ongoing bodily integration as indicated by numerous functions, which to name a few include: utilization of digested food; maintenance of body temperature, electrolyte balance, and pH; wound healing; and fighting infection. “Brain-dead” pregnant women successfully gestate their children. Chronically “brain-dead” children, who survive weeks to years following a declaration of “brain death,” demonstrate proportional physical growth, and in rare instances even undergo sexual maturation.

Healthcare providers who care for “brain-dead” patients know that their care does not differ in any substantial way from the care of other severely neurologically damaged, comatose patients who do not meet “brain death” criteria. Moreover, “brain-dead” patients are as physiologically stable, if not more so, than many dying patients in intensive care units who are in multi-organ failure due to systemic illness. What accounts for this ongoing stability in “brain-dead” patients if not the soul? As such, the empirical medical evidence contradicts the assertion that the brain is the “master part,” for “brain-dead” patients demonstrate persistent bodily integration; persistent bodily integration indicates that the soul is present and the human person is alive.

How, then, did the concept develop that people with “dead brains” were dead in the traditional biological sense of irreversible loss of bodily integration? The best place to start is perhaps with the first successful kidney transplant, which was performed by Joseph Murray in 1954 at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston. Soon thereafter surgeons began to consider transplanting other organs, including the heart. However, whereas most people have two kidneys and can afford to donate one, to take a patient’s heart is to end the patient’s life.

On New Year’s Day 1968, in apartheid South Africa, a 24-year-old black man named Clive Haupt was at a picnic with his family near the sea when he developed a subarachnoid hemorrhage (bleeding around his brain). He was taken to Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town and was admitted under the care of the physician Raymond Hoffenberg.

That night, Hoffenberg received a visit from the transplant team and was asked to pronounce Haupt dead. Hoffenberg, troubled at the thought of declaring someone with a beating heart dead, refused. One of the surgeons on the transplant team said to Hoffenberg: “God, Bill, what sort of heart are you going to give us?” In other words, were Haupt to actually die (using circulatory-respiratory criteria), his heart would quickly begin to decompose and would no longer be suitable for transplantation.

The following morning, under considerable pressure, Hoffenberg declared Haupt dead. Surgeon Christiaan Barnard subsequently harvested Haupt’s heart and transplanted it into a 58-year-old retired white dentist, marking the first “successful” heart transplant. However, the declaration of Haupt’s death was on shaky ground – both ethically and legally. If heart transplantation were going to be feasible, a source of fresh viable organs would be necessary – and fresh, viable organs cannot be obtained from corpses. A new definition of death would be needed.

Therefore, it was in August of 1968, less than a year after the first heart transplant, that the Harvard Medical School committee defined “irreversible coma as a new criterion for death.” The obvious contradiction in this definition is that to be in a coma is not to be dead, but alive. A corpse is not “comatose.” But this deeply comatose state is what we now call “brain death.” The Harvard committee had a very pragmatic reason for proposing a new definition of death: under the traditional circulatory-respiratory definition of death, harvesting the heart of a comatose patient would be homicide.

This, briefly, is the history of how the concept of “brain death” developed. It is appropriate at this point to provide an extended quote from Robert Veatch, who worked closely with several of the members of the Harvard Medical School committee, including its chair (Henry Beecher) and theological ethicist (Ralph Potter). Veatch would later become Director of Georgetown’s Kennedy Institute of Ethics, as well as a Professor of Medical Ethics and Professor of Philosophy at Georgetown. Veatch wrote:

None of the members [of the Harvard committee] was so naïve as to believe that people with dead brains were dead in the traditional biological sense of the irreversible loss of bodily integration.… Rather, committee members implicitly held that, even though these people are not dead in the traditional biological sense, they have lost the moral status of members of the human moral community. They believed that people with dead brains no longer should be protected by norms prohibiting homicide.… In effect, the committee and its fellow travelers proposed an entirely new definition of death, one that assigned the label ‘death’ for social and policy purposes to people who no longer are seen as having the full moral standing assigned to other humans.… Among the implications would be that organs that normally preserve life could be removed without the elaborate moral defense normally necessary to justify a homicide.

A precedent was set that if the brain ceases to function the human person no longer possesses intrinsic dignity. The principle of human dignity is the foundation of all of Catholic social teaching. Our faith teaches that each person is made in God’s image, and therefore has inviolable intrinsic worth. Therefore, we risk undermining all of Catholic social teaching if we ignore the intrinsic worth of “brain-dead” patients, who by virtue of their persistent bodily integration are demonstrably alive.

This should especially be considered in view of the fact that the history we have recounted strongly suggests that the purpose for redefining death was utilitarian – living bodies were needed from which to harvest unpaired vital organs. This was necessary because when a patient truly dies, at normal temperatures most vital organs begin to deteriorate within minutes and are in short order unsuitable for transplantation. Even if one were to argue that the introduction of “brain death” criteria was not utilitarian in nature, this is an important conflict of interest, for “brain-dead” patients are the ideal source of unpaired vital organs insofar as their organs remain supplied by circulating oxygenated blood well after death has been pronounced. Most vital organ transplantations today rely on using “brain death” criteria.

Even when a patient has clinically died, as indicated by the absence of all signs of life, we should remain humble before the mystery of God’s creation, and not presuppose to know with certainty the exact moment when the soul has left the body. This approach coheres with Catholic moral and pastoral theology, which does not equate the moment of clinical death with the moment of theological death (when the soul separates from the body). For generations Catholic moral theology manuals have taught that priests have the ability (and possibly the duty) to perform the sacrament of Extreme Unction an hour or even up to two hours after clinical death, using the conditional formulation, “If you are alive, I anoint you… I absolve you….” This is because it has long been thought probable that the soul remains united to the body for some period of time even after clinical death. If such uncertainty exists about the moment of the soul’s departure when all signs of life are absent, how much greater our uncertainty in “brain-dead” patients who still have a heartbeat, have warm and supple flesh, maintain homeostasis, exhibit stress responses to unanesthetized incision for organ removal, flush, sweat, and may even demonstrate spontaneous or reflex movements!

Saint Pope John Paul II, in his 2000 address to the 18th International Congress of the Transplantation Society, said, based on the empirical data presented to him at that time, that a brain-based clinical criterion for death “does not seem to conflict with the essential elements of a sound anthropology” (emphasis added). However, upon receiving more empirical data, it appears he was less convinced, as evidenced by his calling the Pontifical Academy of Sciences to restudy the issue of “brain death” in 2005.

In his 2005 letter “To the Pontifical Academy of Sciences,” rather than affirming the validity of “brain death,” John Paul II recommended a methodology to study the subject: to first gather empirical medical evidence, to then analyze that evidence using philosophy and theology, and finally to arrive at a moral conclusion. He wrote:

From the clinical point of view, however, the only correct way – and also the only possible way – to address the problem of ascertaining the death of a human being is by devoting attention and research to the individuation of adequate ‘signs of death’, known through their physical manifestation in the individual subject…. Building upon the data supplied by science, anthropological considerations and ethical reflection have the duty to put forward an equally rigorous analysis, listening attentively to the Church’s Magisterium. (emphasis added)

In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI gave an “Address to Participants at an International Congress organized by the Pontifical Academy for Life,” the Congress being called to study organ transplantation. Some observers expected him to reaffirm the cautious endorsement of a brain-based criterion given by John Paul II in 2000. Instead, Pope Benedict XVI did not even mention it, saying starkly that “individual vital organs cannot be extracted except ex cadavere [from a cadaver]”. Anyone who has ever seen a “brain-dead” patient in an intensive care unit knows that is not what is normally considered a “cadaver.”

Lamentably, rather than the prudent methodology described above being utilized, what in fact occurred following the creation of this new definition of death in 1968 was that clinical practice raced forward, prior to medical evidence being gathered. Years, and eventually decades, of harvesting organs from “brain-dead” patients created a moral imperative that society reach the verdict that “brain death” is a valid definition of death. If it were not, organ harvesting would have caused the death of “brain-dead” patients, which is homicide. It seems plausible that, in the decades following 1968, the creation of numerous complex philosophical theories supporting “brain death” criteria was driven, at least partially, by the need to believe that we as a society are not ending people’s lives for the sake of their organs.

Our reflection on the end of life also has important implications for the beginning of life. If we accept the statement: “A functioning brain is the material condition for the soul to inform a human body,” then we must logically conclude that personal human life cannot begin at the moment of conception, for the single-celled zygote has no brain. This seems inconsistent with the Church’s Instruction on Respect for Human Life, issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1987, which rhetorically asks, “How could a human individual not be a human person?”

If we were to accept that “A functioning brain is the material condition for the soul to inform a human body,” then perhaps the soul is not infused until the third or fourth week of gestation when the neural groove forms; or maybe not until the 30th day when the neural tube closes; or maybe not until the eighth week when the cortical plate forms; or maybe not until the second trimester when electrical activity is recordable; or perhaps not until after birth, when the cerebral cortex becomes functional. The determination of when the brain is “formed,” and therefore when the soul is infused, would be arbitrary, and our defense of life at its earliest stages would be compromised. And what if a child, either due to congenital factors or early developmental injury, lacks all or most brain tissue, as in the case of an anencephalic child? Would that child count as a human person?

The goal of organ transplantation is to save lives. However, we cannot save lives at the expense of other lives – including those of sick, dying, or severely disabled people. In this article, we are able to only briefly touch on information pertinent to the topic of “brain death.” Although our discussion is not exhaustive, the historical background, the empirical medical evidence, and our anthropological and theological reflections raise the serious concern that “brain-dead” patients are, in fact, alive. Thus one of our purposes here is simply to acknowledge the current state of affairs, namely, that there is robust and well-founded debate about the validity of “brain death” among faithful Catholics. The current exchange in the National Catholic Register and Catholic World Report is representative of that fact.

Therefore, in light of this ongoing discussion, we conclude that moral certitude is lacking that “brain-dead” patients are truly dead. And when moral certitude is lacking, the principle of precaution must prevail. We should presume that life endures in deeply comatose patients, for if we err, we should err on the side of life. We strongly encourage ongoing gracious discussion on the topic of “brain death” amongst Catholics, not only in academic journals, but also in public forums such as the National Catholic Register and the Catholic World Report. As that discussion continues, though, we believe it is appropriate, in accordance with the principle of precaution, to cease using “brain death” criteria in clinical practice.

Pope Benedict XVI said in his 2008 address to the international conference on organ transplantation,

In an area such as this [the determination of death], in fact, there cannot be the slightest suspicion of arbitra[riness] and where certainty has not been attained the principle of precaution must prevail…. The principal criteria of respect for the life of the donator [donor] must always prevail so that the extraction of organs be performed only in the case of his/her true death.” (emphasis added)

We Catholics know that Truth has a face, and that face is the Son of God. Therefore, as together we seek the truth regarding the validity of “brain death,” let us seek Him and pray that He will lead us to the truth.

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About Bishop Joseph E. Strickland 1 Article
Bishop Joseph E. Strickland was born in Fredericksburg, Texas; ordained a priest for the Diocese of Dallas in 1985 and ordained as the fourth bishop the Diocese of Tyler in 2012
About Joseph M. Eble, MD 3 Articles
Joseph M. Eble, MD, is President of the Tulsa Guild of the Catholic Medical Association and Vice President of Fidelis Radiology. He is passionate about the subjects of end of life care, adoption, and building bridges between persons of different ethnicity. He has authored or co-authored articles in the National Catholic Register, Homiletic and Pastoral Review, Catholic World Report, and Crisis Magazine. He may be reached at


  1. I have a question about “Why the Concept of Death is Valid as a Definition of Brain Death”
    Statement from the Pontifical Academy of Sciences 2008.

    ‘Brain death means the irreversible cessation of all the vital activity of the brain (the cerebral hemispheres and the brain stem). This involves an irreversible loss of function of the brain cells and their total, or near total, destruction.’

    Is there any reason to adopt any other criterion for determining the death of an individual?

  2. What an insightful, comprehensive and understandable article. It should be read and studied by every Catholic healthcare worker. and taught in a developmentally appropriate way in every Catholic school.

  3. my daughter had the privelege of three liver transplants she died after the third. her life was extended by 21 years however i battled with the thought of the donor being brain dead. at which stage is a person brain dead whilst the heart is still beating if in the case of a heart transplant. there is obviously life in the donor otherwise the organ is dead. no doubt external supply of blood keeps the donor organ alive. but at what stage is the donor brain dead? my heart goes out to the relatives of the donor for the courage to say take the life support off of their dear one. i LOOK FORWORD TO THE DAY MEDICAL SCIENCE WILL GROW ORGANS AND MAKE TRANSPLANTATIONS MORE HUMANE.UNTIL THEN THANK YOU TO THE TEAM OF DOCTORS WHO GAVE MY DAUGHTER A SPURT OF LIFE SHE BECAME AUSTRALIAN OF THE YEAR AND DISCOVERED A RINSE WHICH WOULD PROLONG THE LIFE OF A TRANPLANTED ORGAN UNTIL IT WAS USED FOR TRANSPLANTS.SHE GAVE BACK TO SOCIETY FOR THE LIVES SHE WAS GIFTED WITH THREE TIMES

  4. A trying issue, the determination of death when physical there’s indication of life [at least biological]. Benedict XVI with his usual perspicacity offers us a workable premise to decide when he indicates there a real difference between a person who is considered brain dead and a cadaver.
    A case in point of leaning toward life or its possibility was the instance of Elizabeth Anscombe’s daughter who suffered a severe insult to the brain leaving her with no indication of mental activity. Elizabeth refused to consider her brain dead, in time her daughter recovered, not to normal but still coherent.
    I agree with Benedict’s statement at the end of this essay.
    Another consideration is the persistence and enrichment of our value for human life, personally experienced in spouses who came to visit their loved one, for years, giving witness that some values supersede logic and elevate our humanness.

  5. So grateful for this thoughtful and courageous essay. I’ve long been advised (by my attorney son who has seen too many questionable accident reports) to NOT be an “organ donor.” It is yet another way of calling evil, “good.” Not unlike the current Vatican position on the Experimental Gene Therapy being pushed all over the world,

  6. Excellent article. I commend Bishop Strickland and De. Eble for exposing the uncomfortable truth about Brain Death. Precious few Catholic priests and MD’s are willing to speak truth to the barbaric practice of harvesting organs from people whose hearts are beating and lungs are breathing yet are deemed brain dead. If you follow the money underlying the acceptance of the brain death standard, once can understand why the corrupt Medical Industrial Complex suddenly abandoned the hippocratic oath for a fistful of dollars.

  7. I feel hesitant to criticize too much “the corrupt Medical Industrial Complex (that) suddenly abandoned the hippocratic oath for a fistful of dollars.” (We’re talking shareholders–ordinary investing Catholics here.)

    What is more to blame is the medical insurance industry propped up by a lot of so-called pro-life Catholics in the name of freedom. A family can spend itself into poverty and bankruptcy, and perhaps those resources should be provided for a person who appears to be brain dead. I would certainly think so. The deeper poverty is in a culture that lacks single-payer medical insurance and a commitment to the care of people the 1% deem non-productive cogs for the almighty and sacred capitalist system.

    That said, organ harvesting from the living (not just the brain dead) is a problem in some places in the world. The clothes, food, toys, or cell phones made in China may well have helped contribute to it. The authors and commentators here may well be in remote cooperation with it. By all means, be skeptical and listen to critiques of US health care and its insurance subsidiaries. But if it’s truly a serious issue and not an ideological knee-jerk for you, maybe some Catholics might reconsider their opposition to “socialism” and their love of imported goods.

    • Lots of vague and passive-aggressive accusations here.

      “The authors and commentators here may well be in remote cooperation with it.”

      Unlike yourself?

      I’m allowing this comment, but only to put you on notice that my patience with these sort of insinuations and soft bullying comments is running out.

      • Thank goodness. Open dialogue is great, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s had enough of continual carping and baseless accusations.

    • Funny, I know a good number of pro-life Catholics (and Protestant Christians) who much prefer such organizations as Medi-Share, Samaritain Ministries, Solidarity Health, etc., as oppose to health/medical insurance.

  8. Real Catholics like Bishop Strickland are not donors of organs, also they are not
    recipients of vaccines. Transplantation doctors and vaccine producers need live organs and body cells. That is why the aborted babies need to be alive when they are cut open
    to remove their organs. Vivisection.

  9. Thank you, Bishop, for by implication branding me, a practising Catholic transplant surgeon in my retirement, as a murderer. In this my country, Australia, transplant surgery is not available in the private sector and in the public [Medicare] system surgeons are not permitted to charge a fee to the patient. Twenty percent (20%) of patients choose to be treated using private insurance in the public system and the surgeons may charge a fee set by the government which during my 35 years of practice from 1972 to 2007 progressively rose from $A800.00 to $ A1300.00 dollars. I raise this point simply to set the agenda straight in that in many countries other than the USA, sick people people are not used as cash cows for outrageous surgeons charging like bulls and no-one misses out on treatment if they cannot afford to pay. My point being that as a surgeon who accepts the concept of brain death and successfully championed its application in the Law of this country, personal gain in no way affects my view on the matter of brain death. I am in fact far more opposed to live donor transplantation of paired organs such as the kidney which I see as far more unacceptable and indeed amoral. Why? Because surgeons are there to operate on the sick not on those chosen for major surgery because of resounding good health, the basic qualification for live donation when any major operation carries the risk of harm and death.
    Pope John Paul II’s definition of death to which you refer is very simple,namely: “The death of a person is a single event consisting in the disintegration of that unitary and integrated whole that is the personal self.” The unitary and integrated whole is dependent completely on the brain and has nothing whatever to do with a beating heart or artificially ventilated lungs. The diagnosis of brain death is made after repeated episodes of turning off life support systems and performing a numbers of tests of reflex activity and watching cardiac responses on ECG monitoring over 48 hrs. If there is no response and the life support is not re-established the patient will die. This is a very different situation from, say, that of a fully conscious paraplegic who requires life support when refusal of that life support would result in death.
    Argument over when an embryo gets a soul and becomes a human being with a brain or when the soul leaves a brain dead patient are as relevant as the perplexing conundrum as to haw many angels can sit on the top of a pin. The difference between the embryo and the brain dead is simply that the embryo possesses the inevitability of life through which it can know, love and serve its Creator, whereas the inevitability of the brain dead human body maintained artificially through the achievements of modern Medicine is the complete loss of that ability to know God- in other words, death.
    I seem to recall that Catholic teaching/morality does not demand that doctors ARTIFICIALLY maintain a beating heart and respiration (the signs that many (like the Hollywood movie writers) mistakenly believe to be the major signs of life.
    A final thought. Single microscopic cells, identifiable by their genomes as human, are alive in laboratories around the world and are responsible for the research that saves countless human lives. Do they have souls?

    • Completely missing in your discussion is the term “Medical Ethics” if such a concept actually exists in practice. At least in the US if not in other countries we have medical personnel, mainly RN’s who are very well compensated to convince families to allow organ donation as they struggle with the imminent death of a family member. They hover like ghouls and use every degree of salesmanship to seal the deal always claiming to be saving lives, pocketing a tidy bonus when successful. Oddly the convincers are not employees of the hospital but work for private firms with access to the hospitals and are paid on a per case basis, definetly upsetting in my opinion. Doctor if your believe in your work, see the outcome as truly a good thing, it’s hard to argue with you because you are there at both ends of the transplant which we are not. I try to keep an open mind, and seek a deeper understanding of a complex subject.

      • Good morning Larry. I was surprised by your revelation of private company employed “ghouls” hovering over death beds canvassing organ donations for personal or company profit. I have not heard of that before but I suppose there is a certain recognition of how wrong it is and why it is kept quiet from the greater part of the transplant world. Coercion of various types for money is not unheard of in the transplant world. For many years criminal organ broker organisations in Eastern Europe have made vast sums from living donors, In India surgeons were well known for inducing husband’s in poor villages to force their wives into living donor surgery for approx $US 1000.00 . The surgeons offered the donated organs to wealthy foreigners for fees exceeding $US50,000.00. The Chinese execute prisoners on the operating tables after taking various organs for transplantation, again in foreigners for outrageous fees. And in my experience I have seen many so-called altruistic living donors place obligations on the recipients of their organs – obligations for money, housing and sexual favours amongst others. I have also had relatives of deceased, cadaver donors hunt the recipients down and demand money. (In Australia, anonymity of cadaver donors is mandatory in the Law because of this). So yes Larry – transplant surgery is fraught with unethical and frankly criminal behaviour by predators seeking out the sick for their own personal gain. It is very sad when some doctors abandon their principles to benefit themselves. Despite all, there is much good to be found as with all things that involve human beings. I sometimes wonder how God buggered up so much when he created us. All we can do is to always look for the good and not be afraid to condemn the bad.

  10. There are many moments in life when faith requires us to say, No. It would not be surprising to find that there are a number of instances in the practice of medicine, when you SIMPLY HAVE TO REJECT what is proposed. So while it might be alright in general to get a kidney from a living patient who is willing to offer it, who lives afterward with the remaining kidney; it is not alright to take a heart from a living person, nor for a living person to give his heart, in order for someone else to receive it before the first has died.

    Therefore, you ALSO can not neglect treatment in order to corner a patient into the “final approaches” to death; so as to be able to say, this patient has no comeback, let us proceed and take his heart before he dies. Positive medicine is the obligation.

    When those moments arise and directly impact me (someone) personally, it is not just a personal No that’s involved; there is also a personal Yes, the yes to obey God fulfilling the right way. In some dire circumstances, this would entail, heroically embracing the difficulties, pains and sufferings and indeterminate-ness. So if in such case, I say to you, before God, you shall not have my heart, you then proceed to take it and deprive me of my moral effort as well as my life and plunge me and those around me into medical calumny -be forewarned, THE LORD WILL DEAL WITH YOU.

    The fact that there are human cells isolated in labs is not an argument for anything other than direct review and scrutiny of those situations.

    This latter points leads to the more general rule, that the advancement of science and the use of its efficacious means already achieved, never replace the moral law and the will of God Almighty. Similarly, doing casuistry about the soul in order to make a determination on the body and the practice is medicine, will not make good medicine.

  11. Dear Elias. I am sorry that what I have written in the comment above has not been clear enough for your understanding. Nobody takes a heart for transplantation from a living patient! Hearts are removed only from those who are dead – determined by brain death as clearly defined by Pope JP II. You clearly don’t seem to be aware that heart muscle cells are the only cells in the human body which have a completely independent capacity to contract repetitively at a basic rate that can be altered only in the living body. This capacity of heart cells is well known to Biology students in the famous frog heart experiment where a heart removed from the body continues to beat for a considerable time provided it is suspended in a physiological solution. THE HEART IS NOT THE CENTRE OF LIFE!
    You would understand the moral objection to live donor surgery for paired organs such as the kidney or for partial removal of say one lobe of the liver for transplantation if you were the surgeon who advised the donor surgery, carefully chose the donor because of his/her resounding good health and the donor patient died post-surgery from complications. Such an event is not theoretical. It happens and is not widely publicised for obvious reasons (such public awareness would kill off live donor surgery overnight – and,of course, a source of income for donor surgeons). Fortunately, never having ever done a live donor operation, I have not had to face the devastation that some living donor surgeons have. In fact many units around the world have abandoned living donor surgery for varying periods in the wake of donor operative deaths. I have been engaged as an expert witness by the Law in such cases brought to litigation. It is a great tragedy which is much easier to compute and on which to base an opinion/argument when someone has witnessed it personally. The same applies to abortion as practised today. The pro-abortionists should hold their own counsel until they have actually witnessed a mid – to late-term abortion. The life of the aborted is there for all see as the heart continues to beat, discarded in a bloody, disposable dish and muscles quiver in detached limbs. THERE IS TOO MUCH MORAL THEORISING BASED ON PERSONAL OPINION RATHER THAN FACT WHEN IT COMES TO MAN-MADE THEOLOGY!

    • Hi John, I appreciate your comment as someone who has personal experience with this. I think this is an important topic, and would like to see a spirited debate with both sides represented well.
      You said
      “Nobody takes a heart for transplantation from a living patient! Hearts are removed only from those who are dead – determined by brain death as clearly defined by Pope JP II”

      What are your thoughts on patients who are declared brain-dead, then show signs of life such as moving limbs on command? Here is a video of Jahi McMath moving limbs on verbal command.

      Jahi did finally die (from a surgery complication), but it was 3+ years after being declared brain dead. If the parents had donated her organs, wouldn’t that have caused her death? I can clearly see she was almost completely disabled, but perhaps in the future medical advancements could help her recover more functions. It seems that in least this one case, the diagnosis of brain death was wrong.
      I agree with you that the parents could have decided to take her off the ventilator ethically, as Catholic teaching typically requires only food and hydration to sustain life. However, since they decided to keep her on it, it was revealed she could hear and respond. This seems to make the brain-death definition more suspect, and single organ donation considerably more murky.

      • Good morning, Dave. The case you quote is rare and very unusual. One would have to question the original diagnosis of brain death in such circumstances. In the requirements of the Civil Law in Australia, brain death is diagnosed not by transplant surgeons but by Intensive Care specialists and based on the repetitive absence of responses, reflex or otherwise and failure of spontaneous ventilation of the lungs as evidenced by turning off ventilators and monitoring the effect on cardiac function. The surgeon is made aware of the donor only after all arrangements have been completed.This exclusion of the transplant surgeons is designed to protect the potential donor from surgical self-interests or possible coercion (the human being is a very selfish animal!) The case you cite would not eventuate in this country. My view is that is a good thing. Doctors of any ilk are not there for their own interests but in the interests of others – notably the sick AND THEIR FAMILIES. Any medical graduate who doesn’t adhere to those ideals does not deserve to be allowed to practice Medicine. The case you cite again is very bad medicine if one considers the prolonged distress that the family of the unfortunate had to endure. Catholic philosophy would indicate that the capacity to know, love and serve God the Creator is the essential of meaningful human life (the embodiment of Pope JP II’s definition of life). Further, human life is not created to become dependent on mechanical or other artificial scientific means of maintaining it – it is God’s domain to dispense and reclaim the life he has created, not Man’s. Through revelation (which I don’t believe stopped with the death of Christ) God continues to reveal great wonders of his Creation to human beings at times of his choosing. The advances of science for the betterment of humanity are parts of that revelation – I don’t know why the Creator decided to do it that way but we should all embrace it and be thankful. The Catholic Church has a bad habit of rejection God’s ongoing revelations – eg the rejection of Galileo’s revealed truth. I suppose this post will earn me another big red X against my name in the big book of candidates for salvation!!!!

  12. This is such a controversial topic for non-believers, therefore it is essential that the information in this article is impeccably accurate. Clive Haupt was the donor for the SECOND successful transplant, not the first. Even your own reference in the Madera article found by clicking on Clive Haupt’s name shows this to be the fact. The Wikipedia article for Dr. Christian Barnard also has accurate source references. Please amend this inaccuracy for the validity of the article. Thank you.

  13. Also, I apologize that I did not catch the autocorrect for Dr. Christiaan Barnard’s name in my post – especially when I was requesting accuracy! Keeps one humble…

  14. CRUDE MEDICINE. *That* is MY reply to all the folderol being made about “brain death.” Medicine is in its INFANCY. We are not far removed from blood-letting leaches, yet physicians today think brain death is the be-all end-all. One wonders if, in the near (or distant) future, as medicine continues to advance, there will be a refinement in devices that measure brain death, and it will be “discovered” that there is powerful functioning of the brain after “brain death.”

    Decades or more from now, we will probably be looked on as barbaric for our primitive practices of disconnecting “machines” and harvesting organs from actual, living people who had brain processes going on that *we* could not comprehend because *we* did not have the ability to measure functioning that we basically cannot measure NOW. We DO NOT KNOW what IS going on in the brains of these so-called “dead” people. Shame on US for assuming that we KNOW. Only GOD knows.

    Kindly, and with respect, Dr. Frawley, your instruments are crude and barbaric, and if you live long enough to see these advancements in medicine, the day may come when you rue the hubris of your “medical opinion.” With ALL due respect for all your education and knowledge, which you’ve spent decades refining.

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