BioethicsThu Oct 18, 2012 - 7:08 pm EST
Film on teen who awoke from coma before having organs harvested stirs 'brain death' debate
COPENHAGEN, Denmark, October 18, 2012, (LifeSiteNews.com) - A documentary titled “Pigen der ikke ville dø” (“The girl who refused to die”), which aired last week on Danish TV, tells the story of 19-year-old Carina Melchior, a 19 year-old girl who awoke from a coma after doctors asked her family to consider donating her organs. The film has raised concern again over inexact criteria for brain death prior to organ donation.
The documentary followed Melchior’s family after she was taken to Aarhus University Hospital to be treated for injuries from a car accident.
Last October, Carina was admitted to hospital with severe injuries and slipped into a coma. Doctors advised her parents that there was little chance for her survival, that brain death would probably occur within days, and suggested withdrawing life support and making preparations for organ donation.
The parents agreed, and Carina was taken off her respirator but continued to breathe on her own.
To the astonishment of her parents and hospital staff, Carina suddenly began moving her legs and opening her eyes.
Carina’s parents claim that doctors took her off life support too soon, because they were desperate for donated organs.
Kim Melchior, Carina’s father, said, “Those bandits in the white coats gave up too quickly, because they wanted an organ donor.”
Danish media report that Carina is making a good recovery in a rehabilitation center, where she is regaining her speech and mobility - even riding her horse Mathilde - and hopes to complete her third year of high school, as she was doing when the accident happened.
Her parents have declared they intend to sue the hospital.
The family’s lawyer, Nils Fjeldberg, told the Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet, “Of course this is a great trauma, both for her and her parents who were convinced that there was nothing else that could be done and agreed to donate her organs.”
Aarhus University Hospital has acknowledged they made a grave error in diagnosis and admitted that the suggestion of organ donation should not have been given, as there were no clear signs that brain death would occur.
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“We are overjoyed that the young woman survived and that she is moving on after the accident,” Claus Thomsen, the hospital’s chief medical officer, wrote in a statement. “But we made a mistake and made the family believe that their daughter and sister would die.”
Thomsen added that the hospital has since implemented new guidelines to ensure that the suggestions about organ donation would be handled more carefully.
The contentious term “brain death” was invented in 1968 to accommodate the need to acquire vital organs in their “freshest” state for transplant.
According to Dr. John Shea, the term has never been rigorously defined, and there are no standardized tests to determine if the condition exists.
Moreover, a prominent American professor of Catholic medical ethics has said that “brain death” criteria offer no “moral certitude” that a patient is really dead, a condition laid out by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI as necessary for removing organs.
The available evidence, said Professor E. Christian Brugger, a senior fellow of ethics at the Culture of Life Foundation, “raises a reasonable doubt that excludes ‘moral certitude’ that ventilator-sustained brain dead bodies are corpses.”
Earlier this month, a lawsuit launched in New York stated that at least one in five patients declared “brain dead” are still alive and are being killed by the removal of vital organs.