Hilary White, Rome Correspondent

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No ‘moral certainty’ that brain death is really death: prominent Catholic ethics professor Brugger

Hilary White, Rome Correspondent
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ROME February 4, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) – A prominent American professor of Catholic medical ethics has said that in “brain death” criteria there is 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, he said, “raises a reasonable doubt that excludes ‘moral certitude’ that ventilator-sustained brain dead bodies are corpses.”

Professor E. Christian Brugger, a Senior Fellow of Ethics at the Culture of Life Foundation gave this judgment in a question and answer article published today by the Rome-based news agency Zenit.

Brugger quoted Pope John Paul II, who told a congress on organ transplants that death is “a single event consisting in the total disintegration of that unity and integrated whole that is the personal self.”

“Although we cannot identify the event directly, we can identify biological signs consequent upon the loss of that unity,” said Brugger. But according to many experts, those biological signs are not present in “brain death” cases.

In his address to the 2000 organ transplant conference, Pope John Paul II had said that when “rigorously applied” brain death criteria “does not seem to conflict with the essential elements of a sound anthropology” but that this judgment must reach “moral certainty.”

Brugger suggests, however, that this statement does not “properly speaking” qualify as an authoritative statement of the magisterium, since the Church’s authority extends to matters of faith and morals. The validity of “brain death,” however, is based upon a “scientific premise that such and such empirical indicators correspond to an absence of human life.”

“This is a technical matter bearing on the adequacy of those indicators for accurately signifying that death has occurred,” he pointed out.

Brugger references the research of D. Alan Shewmon, which, he says, “demonstrates conclusively that the bodies of some who are rightly diagnosed as suffering whole brain death express integrative bodily unity to a fairly high degree.”

In fact, he says, “brain dead” patients on ventilator support “have been shown to undergo respiration at the cellular level … assimilate nutrients … fight infection and foreign bodies … maintain homeostasis … eliminate, detoxify and recycle cell waste throughout the body; maintain body temperature; grow proportionately; heal wounds … exhibit cardiovascular and hormonal stress responses to noxious stimuli such as incisions; gestate a fetus … and even undergo puberty.”

All of this, says Brugger, would seem to indicate that “brain death” fails to meet Pope John Paul’s definition of death as “the total disintegration of that unity and integrated whole that is the personal self.”

The controversy over organ transplants stems from the widespread application of various “brain death” criteria, as well as so-called “non-heart beating” death criteria to determine whether organs can be removed from a patient on life support. Physicians, eager to obtain organs, are routinely removing organs from patients whose vital signs are still strong, while family members frequently report being placed under heavy pressure to consent to organ “harvesting.”

This problem, however, has yet to be thoroughly addressed by the various relevant Vatican offices, with a strong trend among officials in favor of brain death criteria.

In November 2009, Pope Benedict XVI gave an address to a prestigious international conference on organ transplants in which he warned that the principle of moral certainty in determining death must be the highest priority of doctors. In its roster of speakers, that conference, partially sponsored by the Vatican’s own Pontifical Academy for Life, did not address the moral issue that is at the heart of the controversy over organ transplants. 

The pope said, however, that donation of organs can only be licit if it does not “create a serious danger” to the health of the donor.

“There must not be the slightest suspicion of arbitrariness. Where certainty cannot be achieved, the principle of precaution must prevail,” he warned. Benedict added, “Informed consent is the precondition of freedom, so that the transplant has the characteristic of a gift and cannot be interpreted as an act of coercion or exploitation.”

Despite the uniformly positive approach of conference attendees towards brain death criteria, the pope’s statement was taken by many as a ringing warning.

The following February, at a separate conference on “brain death,” an international gathering of medical, neurological and philosophical experts roundly condemned the criteria, saying that they result in the deaths of patients by premature removal of organs.



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‘Little miracles’: Mom gives birth to naturally-conceived quintuplets after refusing ‘selective reduction’

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An ultrasound of the five different compartments, each with its own baby, inside Kim's womb.

AUSTRALIA, February 5, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) -- A 26-year-old Australian mom has given birth to five healthy babies, all conceived naturally, after refusing the doctor’s advice that she must abort three of them in order to give the remaining two a better chance at life. 

“After my initial ultrasound I was told I could consider the selection method to give 2 babies the best chance in life,” wrote mom Kim Tucci in a Facebook post last September. 

“I watched a YouTube video on the procedure and I cried. I could never do that! Was I selfish for not giving two the chance of 100% survival? All I knew is that I already love them and that every heart beat I heard I connect with them more. For me life starts when a heart starts beating and all I know for sure is that I will do whatever it takes to bring them into this world healthy,” she wrote. 

Last Thursday Kim and her husband Vaughn welcomed the five new members into their family — one boy and four girls —increasing the number of their children from 3 to 8. The babies were born at 30 weeks, 10 weeks early, due to insufficient space in Kim’s womb. They weighed on average about 2.5 pounds. 

The quintuplets’ story began last March, after Kim and Vaughn had been trying for six months to conceive just one more child for their family. Due to health complications, Kim wondered if she would ever become a mother again. 

After what she thought was an extra long cycle, she decided to take a pregnancy test. 

“I was feeling tired and a little nauseated and thought I would take a pregnancy test just to get the ‘what if’ out of my head. To my shock and utter excitement it was positive,” she wrote on a Facebook post.

The parents got the shock of their lives when doctors confirmed in an ultrasound examination that there was not one baby, but five. 

“After a long wait for the ultrasound we finally went in. The sonographer told me there were multiple gestational sacks, but she could only see a heart beat in two. I was so excited! Twins!”

“I was moved to another machine for a clearer view and had the head doctor come in and double check the findings. She started to count, one, two, three, four, five. Did i hear that correctly? Five? My legs start to shake uncontrollably and all i can do is laugh. The sonographer then told me the term for five is ‘quintuplets,’” Kim wrote.

Even though Kim began to feel stretched to the limit with all those human lives growing inside her, she chose to focus on her babies, and not herself, referring to them as “my five little miracles.” 

“It's getting harder as each day passes to push through the pain, every part of my body aches and sleeping is becoming very painful. No amount of pillows are helping support my back and belly. Sometimes I get so upset that I just want to throw my hands up and give in.”

“Sometimes my pelvis becomes so stiff I can barely walk and my hips feel like they are grinding away constantly. I'm finding it hard to eat as I basically have no room left in my stomach, and the way it is positioned it's pushed all the way back with the babies leaning against it.” 

“My skin on my belly is so stretched its painful and hot to touch. It literally feels like I have hives! No amount of cream helps relieve the discomfort. I have a lot of stretch marks now. Dealing with such a huge change in my body is hard.” 

“Is it all worth it? Yes!!!! I will keep pushing through,” she wrote in one Facebook post days before the babies were born. 

The newborns' names are Keith, Ali, Penelope, Tiffany, and Beatrix. They were born at King Edward Memorial Hospital in Subiaco, Western Australia. Mother and babies are reported to be doing well. 



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UN rights chief tells Catholic countries to legalize abortion over Zika virus: bishops and cardinal react

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GENEVA, February 5, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) -- The United Nations, following the lead of international abortion activists, is now urging Latin American countries hit by the mosquito-borne Zika virus to lift restrictions on abortion for pregnant women who have contacted the virus and whose pre-born children may be at risk for birth defects, including having smaller than normal heads. 

The UN human rights office said today that it is not enough for South American countries to urge women to postpone pregnancy without also offering them abortion as a final solution. 

“How can they ask these women not to become pregnant, but not offer… the possibility to stop their pregnancies?” UN spokeswoman Cecile Pouilly told reporters. 

UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said that governments should make available contraception and abortion services.

“Laws and policies that restrict (women’s) access to these services must be urgently reviewed in line with human rights obligations in order to ensure the right to health for all in practice,” he said.

But Brazil’s bishops strongly asserted yesterday that efforts should be made to eradicate the virus, not the people who may be infected by it. 

The disease is “no justification whatsoever to promote abortion,” they said in a statement, adding that it is not morally acceptable to promote abortion “in the cases of microcephaly, as, unfortunately, some groups are proposing to the Supreme Federal Court, in a total lack of respect for the gift of life.”

Honduras Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga has also come out strongly against the notion of “therapeutic abortions” as a response to the problem. Unlike Brazil where abortion is legal in the case of rape or health of the mother, abortion remains entirely illegal in Honduras.

“We should never talk about ‘therapeutic’ abortion,” the cardinal said in a homily at a February 3 Mass in Suyap. “Therapeutic abortion doesn’t exist. Therapeutic means curing, and abortion cures nothing. It takes innocent lives,” he said. 

While the World Health Organization (WHO) declared an international public health emergency February 1 on account of concerns over the virus, critics have pointed out, however, that not one death as resulted from the virus. Even on WHO’s own website the virus is described in mild terms. 

“It causes mild fever and rash. Other symptoms include muscle pain, joint pain, headache, pain behind the eyes and conjunctivitis. Zika virus disease is usually mild, with symptoms lasting only a few days,” the website states. “To date, there have been no reported deaths associated with Zika virus,” it added. 

Critics suspect that the crisis is being manipulated to advance an anti-human agenda on the pre-born. 

“Is Zika, actually, a hideous virus that threatens to spread uncontrollably across the world creating an army of disabled children with tiny heads and low IQ’s? Or might this be a willful misinterpretation of the scarce data to manipulate public opinion and legislatures?” wrote pro-life critic Mei-Li Garcia earlier this week.

“It becomes very clear that the publicity surrounding this story has a very little to do with medicine and a lot to do with a convenient crisis that is being used by those pushing for the legalization of abortion around the world,” she wrote.



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Hillary’s litmus test for Supreme Court picks: They must ‘preserve Roe v. Wade’

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DERRY, NH, February 5, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) - Hillary Clinton has a litmus test for Supreme Court nominees - several, in fact. At a Democratic event on Wednesday, Clinton unveiled her criteria in selecting a judge for the nation's highest court.

“I do have a litmus test, I have a bunch of litmus tests," she said.

"We’ve got to make sure to preserve Roe v. Wade, not let it be nibbled away or repealed,” she said.

There have been over 58,000,000 abortions since the 1973 court ruling legalizing abortion in all 50 states, according to National Right to Life.

That echoes her recent call to arms speech before Planned Parenthood last month, when she stated that taxpayers must fund abortion-on-demand in order to uphold the "right" of choice.

“We have to preserve marriage equality,” Clinton said, referring to last summer's Obergefell v. Hodges case, a 5-4 ruling that redefined marriage nationwide. “We have to go further to end discrimination against the LGBT community."

Her views differentiate her from the Republican front runners. Ted Cruz has called the court's marriage ruling "fundamentally illegitimate," and Donald Trump told Fox News Sunday this week that he would "be very strong on putting certain judges on the bench that I think maybe could change things." Marco Rubio has said he won't "concede" the issue to the one-vote majority.

All Republican presidential hopefuls say they are pro-life and will defund Planned Parenthood.

Her husband, Bill Clinton, raised the makeup of the Supreme Court early last month in New Hampshire, saying it receives "almost no attention" as a campaign issue.

On Wednesday, Hillary said "the next president could get as many as three appointments. It’s one of the many reasons why we can’t turn the White House over to the Republicans again.”

Clinton said her judicial appointees must also reverse the Citizens United ruling on campaign finance and oppose a recent decision striking down a portion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. In 2013's Shelby County v. Holder, justices struck down Section 4(b) of the act, which said that certain states and jurisdictions had to obtain permission from the federal government before changing their voting laws.

At one time, most politicians frowned upon any "litmus test" for judicial nominees, emphasizing the independence of the third branch of government. "I don't believe in litmus tests," Jeb Bush told Chuck Todd last November.

But with the rise of an activist judiciary in the middle of the 20th century, constitutionalists have sought to rein in the power of the bench.



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