DENVER, Colorado, October 12, 2004 ( – A Colorado coroner has ruled that a hospital removed vital organs from a donor before he died, and therefore his death was a homicide. The ruling raises serious questions about the definition of “brain death” that is used in organ-transplant cases.

Mark Young, the coroner of Montrose County, Colorado, said that two hospitals—Montrose Memorial and St. Mary’s—failed to follow “accepted medical standards” to determine that William Rardin was actually dead. Rardin, who had been declared “brain dead” after he shot himself in September, was a registered organ donor. His liver, kidneys, and pancreas were removed surgically from his body for transplantation.

But Young, said that Rardin was still alive when the organs were removed. The coroner emphasized that he was not opposed to organ transplants, and was a registered donor himself. “But I want to be dead first,” he said. Young said that he did not expect the case to produce criminal charges. Instead, he argued that medical officials should produce more reliable tests to determine that a patient is dead. He reported that in his own research on the issue, he was “finding that the standards vary from hospital to hospital in the metro region, and widely around the state.” Some ethicists have questioned the morality of organ transplants in general, because useful organs must be removed from donors whose bodies are still functioning. The debate over transplants hinges on the still not clearly settled definition of “brain death”.