Kathleen Gilbert

Shock: requiring death before organ donation is unnecessary, say experts

Kathleen Gilbert
Kathleen Gilbert

TORONTO, November 1, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Because organ donors are often alive when their organs are harvested, the medical community should not require donors to be declared dead, but instead adopt more “honest” moral criteria that allow the harvesting of organs from “dying” or “severely injured” patients, with proper consent, three leading experts have argued.

This approach, they say, would avoid the “pseudo-objective” claim that a donor is “really dead,” which is often based upon purely ideological definitions of death designed to expand the organ donor pool, and would allow organ harvesters to be more honest with the public, as well as ensure that donors don’t feel pain during the harvesting process.

The chilling comments were offered by Dr. Neil Lazar, director of the medical-surgical intensive care unit at Toronto General Hospital, Dr. Maxwell J. Smith of the University of Toronto, and David Rodriguez-Arias of Universidad del Pais Vasco in Spain, at a U.S. bioethics conference in October and published in a recent paper in the American Journal of Bioethics.

The authors state frankly that under current practices donors may be technically still alive when organs are harvested – a necessary condition to produce healthy, living organs. Because of this, they say that protocol requiring a donor’s death is “dangerously misleading,” and could overlook the well-being of the donor who may still be able to suffer during the harvesting procedure.

“Because there is a general assumption that dead individuals cannot be harmed, veneration of the dead-donor rule is dangerously misleading,” they write. “Ultimately, what is important for the protection and respect of potential donors is not to have a death certificate signed, but rather to be certain they are beyond suffering and to guarantee that their autonomy is respected.” 

Instead of the so-called Dead Donor Rule (DDR), the authors propose that donors should be “protected from harm” (i.e given anesthesia so that they cannot feel pain during the donation process), that informed consent should be obtained, and that society should be “fully informed of the inherently debatable nature of any criterion to declare death.”

The doctors note that developing the criteria for so-called “brain death,” which is often used by doctors to declare death before organ donation, was an “ideological strategy” aimed at increasing the donor pool that has been found to be “empirically and theoretically flawed.” They also criticize the latest attempts to create new, even looser definitions of death, such as circulatory death, which they argue amount to simply “pretending” that the patient is dead in order to get his organs.

The legitimacy of “brain death,” “cardiac death,” and even “circulatory death” - which can be declared only 75 seconds after circulatory arrest - as actual death has been an ongoing debate in public commentary on organ donation. Many experts assert that doctors familiar with organ donation are aware that the terms, intended to delineate a threshold of probable death, is different from actual bodily death, rendering highly uncertain the moral status of organ donation.

Meanwhile, countless stories have emerged of “miraculous” awakenings following brain death, providing weight to the arguments of doctors and others who say that the process of procuring viable organs not only fails to ensure that a patient has certainly died, but is impossible unless a body is still technically alive.

Dr. Paul Byrne, an experienced neonatologist, clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of Toledo, and president of Life Guardian Foundation, said he was not surprised at the recent statements, which he said merely reflect a long-open secret in the organ donation field.

“All of the participants in organ transplantation know that the donors are not truly dead,” Byrne told LifeSiteNews.com in a telephone interview Tuesday.

“How can you get healthy organs from a cadaver? You can’t.”

Byrne affirmed that giving pain medication to organ donors is routine. Doctors taking organs from brain-dead donors “have to paralyze them so they don’t move so when they cut into them to take organs, and when they paralyze them without anesthetics, their heart rate goes up and their blood pressure goes up,” he observed. “This is not something that happens to someone who’s truly dead.”

The neonatologist said he has personally studied the theory of “brain death” since 1975, seven years after the first vital organ transplant in 1968, and has found that death criteria has continually been changed to accommodate a demand for fresh organs. The idea of a “dead donor rule” did not even emerge until the 1980s, he said, and didn’t enter common parlance until years later.

“There really is no dead donor rule, although they’re trying to make it seem like there is,” said Byrne.

Byrne led a Vatican conference on “brain death” criteria in 2008 in which a large group of international experts, many of whom are world leaders in their fields, attested to the illegitimacy of “brain death” as an accepted criterion for organ removal.

The comments by the Canadian and Spanish experts have come under fire from the organ donor community, some members of which have expressed concern that the statements could lead people to opt out of donating their organs.

“In the overwhelming majority of cases, the concept of death is easy, obvious and not really subject to any complex interpretation. It’s very clear,” Dr. Andrew Baker, the medical director of the Trillium Gift of Life Network, which oversees Ontario’s transplant system, told the National Post. “They’re dead, you can see it, there is no return of anything.”

James DuBois, a health ethics pro-fessor at Saint Louis University, also criticized the comments, saying that removing the Dead Donor Rule could “have negative consequences: decreasing organ donation rates, upsetting donor family members and creating distress among health care workers.”

See related article: Vindication of criticisms of organ donation


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Although it is widely believed that people with Down syndrome are doomed to a life of suffering, in one large survey 99% of respondents with Down syndrome described themselves as "happy." Shutterstock
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‘Sick and twisted’: Down’s advocates, pro-life leaders slam Richard Dawkins’ abortion remarks

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By Dustin Siggins

Advocates on behalf of individuals with Down syndrome, as well as pro-life leaders, are slamming famed atheist Richard Dawkins’ statements made on Twitter earlier today that parents have a moral responsibility to abort babies diagnosed in utero with Down’s.

During a shocking Twitter rant, Dawkins responded to questioners saying that it was "civilised" to abort Down Syndrome babies, and that it would be "immoral" to choose not to abort babies diagnosed with the condition.

He said that his goal is to "reduce suffering wherever you can," indicating that unborn children cannot suffer, and that unborn children don't "have human feelings."

In addition to being scientifically challenged - unborn children can feel both pain and emotions - Dawkins' comments drew criticism for his callousness towards children with disabilities.  

"A true civilization – a civilization of love – does not engage in such cold and ultimately suicidal calculus"

"It's sick and twisted for anyone to advocate for the killing of children with disabilities," Live Action President Lila Rose told LifeSiteNews. "Dawkins's ignorant comments serve only to further stigmatize people with Down syndrome.

"While many people with Down syndrome, their families, and advocacy groups are fighting discrimination on a daily basis, Dawkins calls for their murder before they are even born," she said. "Those with Down syndrome are human beings, with innate human dignity, and they, along with the whole human family, deserve our respect and protection."

Carol Boys, chief executive of the Down's Syndrome Association, told MailOnline that, contrary to Dawkins’ assertion, "People with Down’s syndrome can and do live full and rewarding lives, they also make a valuable contribution to our society."

A spokesperson for the UK disabilities charity Scope lamented that during the "difficult and confusing time" when parents find out they are expecting a child with disabilities, they often experience "negative attitudes."

"What parents really need at this time is sensitive and thorough advice and information," the spokesperson said.

Charlotte Lozier Institute president Chuck Donovan agreed with Rose’s assessment. "Advocates of abortion for those 'weaker' than others, or of less physical or intellectual dexterity, should remember that each of us is 'lesser' in some or most respects," he said.

According to Donovan, "we deliver a death sentence on all of humanity by such cruel logic."

"A true civilization – a civilization of love – does not engage in such cold and ultimately suicidal calculus" he said.

One family who has a child with Down syndrome said Dawkins was far from the mark when he suggested that aborting babies with Down syndrome is a good way to eliminate suffering.

Jan Lucas, whose son Kevin has Down syndrome, said that far from suffering, Kevin has brought enormous joy to the family, and "is so loving. He just has a million hugs."

She described how Kevin was asked to be an honorary deacon at the church they attend in New Jersey, "because he is so encouraging to everyone. At church, he asks people how their families are, says he'll pray for them, and follows up to let them know that he has been praying for them."

It's not just strangers for whom Kevin prays. "My husband and I were separated for a time, and Kevin kept asking people to pray for his dad," said Jan. "They didn't believe that Kevin's prayers would be answered. Kevin didn't lose hope, and asking people, and our marriage now is better than ever before. We attribute it to Kevin's prayers, and how he drew on the prayers of everyone."

"I don't know what we'd do without him," said Jan.

Speaking with LifeSiteNews, Kevin said that his favorite things to do are "spending time with my family, and keeping God in prayer." He said that he "always knows God," which helps him to "always keep praying for my friends."

"I love my church," said Kevin.

Although it is widely believed that people with Down syndrome are doomed to a life of suffering, in one large survey , 99% of respondents with Down syndrome described themselves as "happy." At the same time, 99% percent of parents said they loved their child with Down syndrome, and 97 percent said they were proud of them.

Only 4 percent of parents who responded said they regretted having their child.

Despite this, it is estimated that in many Western countries the abortion rate of children diagnosed in utero with Down syndrome is 90%, or even higher. The development of new and more accurate tests for the condition has raised concerns among Down syndrome advocates that that number could rise even higher. 

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Asked about Iraq on his return flight from South Korea, Francis replied that 'it is legitimate to halt the unjust aggressor.' Shutterstock
Steve Weatherbe

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Pope Francis: steps must be taken to halt ‘unjust aggressor’ in Iraq

Steve Weatherbe
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Pope Francis and his emissary to Iraq’s persecuted non-Muslim minorities, Cardinal Fernando Filoni, have both called on the United Nations to act in concert to protect Iraqis Christian and Yazidi minorities from the radical Islamic forces of ISIS.

Asked about Iraq on his return flight from South Korea, Francis replied that “it is legitimate to halt the unjust aggressor.”

He added, however, that “halt” does not mean to “bomb” and lamented “how many times with the excuse of halting the unjust aggressor…have powerful nations taken possession of peoples and waged a war of conquest!”

He also cautioned that no single nation could determine the right measures. Any intervention must be multilateral and preferably by the United Nations, he said.

Meanwhile, Cardinal Foloni, who is visiting Iraq on behalf of Pope Francis, issued a joint statement this week with Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako and the Iraqi bishops that urged the international community to “liberate the villages and other places that have been occupied as soon as possible and with a permanent result.”

The statement also urged efforts to “assure that there is international protection for these villages and so to encourage these families to go back to their homes and to continue to live a normal life in security and peace.”

Archbishop Giorgio Lingua, the Vatican nuncio to Iraq, was also asked by Vatican Radio earlier this month about the U.S. airstrikes in Iraq.

“This is something that had to be done, otherwise [the Islamic State] could not be stopped,” the archbishop said. 

Although Pope Francis’ own remarks about an intervention in the war-torn country were carefully guarded, Catholic commentator Robert Spencer, author of such bestselling exposes of Islam as “The Truth About Muhammad: Founder of the World's Most Intolerant Religion,” told LifeSiteNews he believes the pope was clearly calling for an “armed intervention, though a very limited one.”  

“Only a fool would think there is another way to stop an ‘unjust aggressor,’” he said.

Spencer expressed concerns that both Francis and Pope John Paul II before him have both referred to Islam a “religion of peace,” which Spencer says is “completely false.” However, he suggested that Francis’ remarks calling for action in Iraq are a sign of a more realistic attitude towards Islam.   

On this, Spencer would likely have the support of Amel Nona, the Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Mosul, who issued a letter last week warning the West in stark terms about the encroaching threat of Islam.

“Our sufferings today are the prelude of those you, Europeans and Western Christians, will also suffer,” Nona warned. “Your liberal and democratic principles are worth nothing here.

“You must consider again our reality in the Middle East, because you are welcoming in your countries an ever growing number of Muslims. Also you are in danger. You must take strong and courageous decisions, even at the cost of contradicting your principles,” he said

“You think all men are equal, but that is not true: Islam does not say that all men are equal. Your values are not their values. If you do not understand this soon enough, you will become the victims of the enemy you have welcomed in your home.”

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'Apparently I'm a horrid monster for recommending WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENS to the great majority of Down Syndrome fetuses,' said Dawkins. 'They are aborted.' Shutterstock
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Richard Dawkins: it’s ‘immoral’ NOT to abort babies with Down syndrome

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By Dustin Siggins

In a bizarre rant on Twitter earlier today, atheist Richard Dawkins wrote that choosing not to abort a child with Down Syndrome would be "immoral."

The conversation started when Dawkins tweeted that "Ireland is a civilised country except in this 1 area." The area was abortion, which until last year was illegal in all cases.

A Twitter user then asked Dawkins if "994 human beings with Down's Syndrome [having been] deliberately killed before birth in England and Wales in 2012" was "civilised."

Dawkins replied "yes, it is very civilised. These are fetuses, diagnosed before they have human feelings."

Later, Dawkins said that "the question is not ‘is it 'human'?’ but ‘can it SUFFER?’"

In perhaps the most shocking moment, one Twitter user wrote that he or she "honestly [doesn't] know what I would do if I were pregnant with a kid with Down Syndrome. Real ethical dilemma."

Dawkins advised the writer to "abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice."

According to Dawkins, the issue of who should be born comes down to a calculation based upon possible suffering. "Yes. Suffering should be avoided. [The abortion] cause[s] no suffering. Reduce suffering wherever you can."

Later, however, he said that people on the autism spectrum "have a great deal to contribute, Maybe even an enhanced ability in some respects. [Down Syndrome] not enhanced."

When Dawkins received some blowback from Twitter followers, he replied: "Apparently I'm a horrid monster for recommending WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENS to the great majority of Down Syndrome fetuses. They are aborted."

It is estimated that in many Western countries the abortion rate of children diagnosed in utero with Down syndrome is 90%, or even higher. The development of new and more accurate tests for the condition has raised concerns among Down syndrome advocates that that number could rise even higher. 

Although it is widely believed that people with Down syndrome are doomed to a life of suffering, in one large survey 99% of respondents with Down syndrome said they were "happy." At the same time, 99% percent of parents said they loved their child with Down syndrome, and 97 percent said they were proud of them.

Only 4 percent of parents who responded said they regretted having their child. 

A number of Dawkins' statements in the Twitter thread about fetal development are at odds with scientific realities. For example, it is well-established that 20 weeks into a pregnancy, unborn children can feel pain. Likewise, unborn children have emotional reactions to external stimuli -- such as a mother's stress levels -- months before being born. 

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