By Kathleen Gilbert

MELBOURNE, Australia, October 21, 2008 (LifeSiteNews.com) - A prominent Melbourne doctor has written that, contrary to popular belief, most organ donations take place before the donor is actually dead.  He argues that the vague criterion of "brain death" has blinded potential donors to the fact that their organs are often harvested while they are still alive.

Pediatric intensive care specialist Dr. James Tibballs published his controversial views in the Journal of Law and Medicine earlier this month, calling upon medical institutions to review their organ harvesting guidelines to ensure that donors know that they may be volunteering to surrender their life on the operating table.

Tibballs points out that current medical practices usually contravene the law, which state that a donor must display irreversible cessation of all functions of their brain or of blood circulation in order to be eligible for the surgery. Australian doctors, however, usually wait only two minutes after a heart has stopped beating before giving the green light for harvesting, said the pediatric specialist. 

But Tibballs says two minutes is inadequate time to determine whether the loss of circulation is "irreversible." The two minutes criterion was established purely for utilitarian reasons, he says - because waiting longer could threaten the viability of donated organs. 

"It could be troubling for the public to realise that doctors looking out for organ donors are also the ones formulating guidelines on how to declare death for organ transplantation," observed Tibballs.

"For this reason, there should be members of the community and people with legal backgrounds on the committee that create these clinical guidelines used to declare someone dead."

Organ donor groups have criticized Tibballs’ article, expressing concern that it may cause donors or potential donors to reconsider their commitment.

"This could be very damaging to public confidence of brain death diagnosis, because a lot of people might say, ‘we don’t believe in this any more,’ and as a consequence, people might die on waiting lists," said Bill Silvester, the medical director of LifeGift.

Dr Gerry O’Callaghan also dismissed Tibballs’ ideas, claiming that donors should be confident that a brain death diagnosis always means true death. "There is no possibility that they would be conscious, that they would have the capacity to feel pain, that they have the capacity for independent life," he said.

However, although Tibballs’ opponents stress that his opinions are in the minority, there has been growing concern about aggressive organ harvesting policies that fail to ensure that the patient is actually dead. 

LifeSiteNews (LSN) has reported several recent cases in which patients deemed "brain dead" resuscitated only moments before their organs were to be removed.  Such cases have brought more evidence to the table showing that the highly contested definition of "brain death," and the later idea of "cardiac death," do not eliminate the possibility that donors may yet recover from seeming lifelessness. 

LSN published the story in June of a French man who, after suffering cardiac arrest for at least ninety minutes, was being prepared for organ removal when doctors noticed the patient breathing, his pupils dilating, and the patient reacted to pain. Within weeks, the patient that had been considered "brain dead" was walking and talking.  (http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2008/jun/08061308.html)

In another example, earlier this year 21-year-old Zack Dunlap was spared from dissection when a relative saw him react to touch minutes before he was scheduled to have his organs removed. Zack was originally deemed eligible to donate his organs when doctors could detect no blood flow to his brain. He later said, however, that he could hear the doctors pronouncing him dead as he lay seemingly unconscious. (http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2008/mar/08032709.html)

In his article "Organ Donation: The Inconvenient Truth," LSN medical advisor Dr. John Shea reveals the disturbing similarity between these "miraculous" cases and other organ donors whose surgeries were successful:

"Some form of anesthesia is needed to prevent the donor from moving during removal of the organs. The donor’s blood pressure may rise during surgical removal. Similar changes take place during ordinary surgical procedures only if the depth of anesthesia is inadequate. Body movement and a rise in blood pressure are due to the skin incision and surgical procedure if the donor is not anesthetized.

"Is it not reasonable to consider that the donor may feel pain? In some cases, drugs to paralyze muscle contraction are given to prevent the donor from moving during removal of the organs. Yet, sometimes no anesthesia is administered to the donor. Movement by the donor is distressing to doctors and nurses. Perhaps this is another reason why anesthesia and drugs to paralyze the muscles are usually given."

Dr. Paul Byrne, an expert in organ donation and neonatologist, has continuously fought against policies and practices that put donors at extreme risk for being pronounced dead prematurely in order to lay hold of their organs.

"Brain death was concocted, it was made up in order to get organs. It was never based on science," Dr. Byrne told LSN. 

Last month, LSN reported that the Vatican is currently reconsidering its stance on organ donation.  Vatican medical advisors are in a heated debate over the ethical standing of brain death and organ donation, which may or may not be resolved before the Vatican conference promoting organ donation scheduled for November. (http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2008/sep/08090513.html)

See Related LifeSiteNews.com articles:

New England Journal of Medicine: ‘Brain Death’ is not Death
http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2008/aug/08081406.html

Doctors Who Almost Dissected Living Patient Confess Ignorance about Actual Moment of Death
http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2008/jun/08061308.html

Doctor Says about "Brain Dead" Man Saved from Organ Harvesting - "Brain Death is Never Really Death"
http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2008/mar/08032709.html

Denver Coroner Rules "Homicide" in Organ-Donor Case
http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2004/oct/04101208.html

Russian Surgeons Removing Organs Saying Patients Almost Dead Anyway
http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2003/sep/03090906.html