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(LifeSiteNews) — More than 150 prominent Catholic clergy and laity have added their names to a document urging action against current standards of “brain death” because they are resulting in organ harvesting from persons who are still alive.

Catholics United on Brain Death and Organ Donation: A Call to Action” was released February 27. The statement is co-authored by Dr. Joseph M. Eble, Dr. John Di Camillo, and Professor Peter Colosi.

Eble is the president of the Tulsa Guild of the Catholic Medical Association. Di Camillo is a bioethicist who has worked for the National Catholic Center for Bioethics for over 12 years. Colosi teaches philosophy at Salve Regina University in Rhode Island.

Some of the most recognizable scholars, pro-life activists, and public figures in the Catholic Church have signed the statement, including Bishop Athanasius Schneider, Bishop Emeritus Joseph Strickland, Sr. Dede Byrne, Fr. Shenan Boquet (Human Life International), Dr. Josef Seifert (formerly of the Pontifical Academy for Life), Judy Brown (American Life League), Dr. Peter Kwasniewski, and more.

The statement explains that the “controversial” designation of “brain death” was first introduced in 1968. LifeSiteNews has previously reported on how an ad hoc committee at Harvard was responsible for the term, which was coined in opposition to natural death.

After the 1981 Uniform Determination of Death Act (UDDA), most U.S. states accepted the legal definition of brain death as an “irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain, including the brain stem.”

Eble, Di Camillo, and Colosi note that in recent years there has been a move to revise the UDDA so persons who had partial or “persistent brain function” in some capacity could also be considered legally dead.

Catholic physicians and bioethicists such as Dr. Doyen Nguyen opposed that revision in July 2023 with a public letter. Nguyen and her co-authors’ resistance successfully halted revisions to the UDDA at the time.

Regardless, the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) published updated medical guidelines for determining brain death in December 2023 that accepted the UDDA revisions. The AAN’s standards are the most used criteria in the United States for brain death.

Eble, Di Camillo, and Colosi observed that studies indicate that “as many as 84% of patients declared brain-dead using the AAN guidelines have preserved hypothalamic function” and that “50% have persistent hypothalamic function.” Put another way, current standards for brain death “do not provide moral (prudential) certainty of death” and often categorize persons who are not fully brain dead as being legally dead.

“A person considering organ donation does not have good reason to expect that he or she will be truly dead at the time of vital organ procurement,” the authors warn.

The statement further observes that “since the current brain death criteria do not provide moral certainty of death” and “since it is morally wrong to remove vital organs when this would kill the patient, it is therefore wrong to remove organs from patients declared dead using these inadequate criteria.”

“As Catholics, we have an obligation to defend the sacredness of human life from conception to natural death. Given the facts above, even as there remains disagreement about whether and how the criteria could be improved, we call on our fellow Catholics to unite against utilization of the current brain death criteria, especially when determining death before vital organ transplantation.”

Within the Church there have been points of disagreement between scholars on organ donation and whether brain death fulfills the requirements for actual death, i.e. when the soul leaves the body.

In the year 2000, John Paul II delivered an address to the International Congress of the Transplantation Society. At the time, he said that brain death could potentially offer moral certainty of death only if there were “complete and irreversible cessation of all brain activity.”

Dr. Nguyen has said that John Paul’s writings on the subject did not take into account all of the literature available at the time and that they should be at the very least “amended, or better yet, retracted.”

Eble, Di Camillo, and Colosi are seeking to unify all Catholics of good will regardless of differing opinions on these subjects because the current clinical reality and existing guidelines around brain death fail to meet the standard of “whole brain death” that some Catholics argue can be ethically sound.

The statement concludes by offering several concrete action steps for laity as well as industry experts to take. Among other things, it urges patients to decline organ donor when offered the chance. It also urges them to document their refusal of organ donation after death and to carry a wallet card refusing organ donation.

The document further calls on health professionals to reject “making declarations of death using the current brain death criteria” and to “object to involvement with organ procurement following declarations of death using the current brain death criteria.”

Crucially, it also recommends that policymakers not punish physicians who “decline to utilize brain death criteria” and that the AAN establish a standard of “whole” brain death criteria instead of “partial” brain death. Click here to read the full statement.

Send an urgent message to Canadian legislators urging them to stop expanding assisted suicide

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