Catholic medical authority raps ‘brain death’ criteria

ROME, February 11, 2005 ( - At a meeting of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, dedicated to the discussion of organ transplants, a former president of the Catholic Medical Association has demanded a more accurate definition of when death occurs. 

Current criteria used by doctors to determine “brain death”—the point at which vital organs may be removed from a donor—are not adequate, argued Dr. Paul Byrne. He pointed out that at the time the organs are removed, the donor’s heart is beating, his body is warm, and other vital organs are still functioning, even if there is medical assistance. 

“Brain death is not death,” Dr. Byrne said. 

In an article published in Catholic World Report in October 2001—with Bishops Fabian Bruskewitz and Robert Vasa among several co-authors—Byrne argued that it is the removal of the vital organs that causes the death of the donor. Therefore, the article concluded, the donation of vital organs is never morally licit. 

Although he has given his support in principle to organ donation, Pope John Paul II (bio - news) has urged doctors to define clear criteria for the death of an organ donor. Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, the chancellor of the Pontifical Academy for Sciences, said that last week’s meeting in Rome had been devoted to that purpose.

See previous Stories on this issue:

Denver Coroner Rules “Homicide” in Organ-Donor Case

Russian Surgeons Removing Organs Saying Patients Almost Dead Anyway

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