Vatican Radio tackles organ harvesting in light of questionable ‘brain death’ criterion

Vatican Radio tackles organ harvesting in light of questionable ‘brain death’ criterion


ROME, May 9, 2012 ( – The controversy surrounding the questionable criterion of ‘brain death’ used to determine when life-support devices are turned off in preparation for organ harvesting was addressed in a May 8 interview with Dr. David Albert Jones on Vatican Radio.

Dr. Jones is the director of the UK-based Anscombe Bioethics Centre, a British Catholic institute that tackles the moral questions arising in clinical practice and biomedical research. The organization hosted an Oxford Research Seminar on May 8 on the topic of “Catholic Perspectives on Organ Transplantation.”

Dr. David Albert Jones

The dubious criterion of ‘brain death,’ invented in 1968 to accommodate the need to acquire vital organs in their “freshest” state from a donor who some argue is still very much alive, made headlines two weeks ago when a young British man revealed to the media that he owed his life to his insistent father who would not allow his son’s organs to be removed from his body, despite assurances from four doctors that his son could not recover from the wounds he had suffered in a car accident.


Four years ago, Stephen Thorpe was placed in a medically-induced coma following a multi-car pileup.

Even though his heart was still beating, a team of four physicians insisted that Stephen was “brain-dead” following the wreck. Thorpe’s father enlisted the help of a general practitioner and a neurologist, who demonstrated that his son still had brain wave activity. The doctors agreed to bring him out of the coma, and five weeks later Thorpe left the hospital, having almost completely recovered.

Today, the 21-year-old with “brain damage” is studying accounting at a local university. “‘My impression is maybe the hospital weren’t very happy that my father wanted a second opinion,” he told the Mail.

Charles Collins of Vatican Radio said cases like Thorpe’s have raised questions on the morality of harvesting organs from people who have been declared brain-dead.

Dr. Jones told Collins there are many ethical questions that must be answered before we can know if someone is really dead.

“There are a number of concerns, even if you are in favour of organ donation in principle, which the Church is, very strongly, in principle,” Dr. Jones said. “There are various issues around how to do it practice … the ongoing question of how you determine whether someone has died.”

“Most donation after death in the whole of the western world happens when the heart is still beating, the so-called beating heart cadavers,” Dr. Jones explained, “so it is very important for people, that this body that doesn’t look like a typical dead body, to be sure it really is dead. Because if it isn’t dead, and you take the organs out, then you might be killing someone.”

Dr. Jones pointed out that it is not just brain-death which is an ethical concern, but that there are also ethical issues surrounding organ donation from those whose heart has stopped beating – circulatory death.

“The issue which surrounds circulatory death is mainly how long the heart has stopped before you take the organs out because … you need to take the organs as soon as possible so that they are usable,” he said. “Even though it is true that the heart has stopped, it isn’t absolutely clear that it couldn’t be started again.”



I noted in previous posts that I would be delving into this topic of “brain death”  “organ harvesting” and” transplants”.

As stated before, one cannot harvest organs from a cadaver…the donor must be alive to some degree.

As the article notes Brain Death was a criteria determined in 1968…about the same time as the first ever Heart Transplant.

In essence, if this organ , the brain,  is deemed dead……then this subjective protocol states the rest of the LIVING BODY PARTS can be harvested.

IMHO, most people believe the body must be dead , thus they sign donor cards, thinking its a lost cause.

I am feeling quite uncomfortable about this issue, as I wonder how many people were harvested, then became cadavers, when,  in fact , they could have made a full recovery and lived normal lives.

This is not to say that some parties were actually beyond hope and gave the gift of life to others. My concern is “dead people tell no tales” and how eager is the given medical team to treat you ….or harvest you….given the very gray criteria that could lead to major cover ups. Whose to ever know…..if they erred?

One other point that I will note later is that in an interview on Ms Spingolas show.,the Doctor she interviewed stated that “organ donors” are being given paralyzing drugs. Why? Apparently the “donors” still feel pain and react to the knives cutting up their bodies….which makes the organ harvest team very UNcomfortable.

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