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Pope Francis encourages organ donation despite controversy that donors aren’t actually dead

Dorothy Cummings McLean Dorothy Cummings McLean Follow Dorothy

VATICAN CITY, April 16, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) ― Pope Francis has encouraged believers and non-believers to donate their organs when they die despite evidence that donors must not be truly dead, only "brain dead," if their organs are to be properly harvested. The Pope's statement comes about a month before a conference will take place in Rome on the topic hosted by a Catholic laity led group that is faithful to Catholic teaching on the matter. 

According to the Holy See’s Vatican News, Pope Francis met with members of the Italian Association of Organ Donors on Saturday, April 13 and told them that organ donation should be “encouraged as a manifestation of generous solidarity.”  

The pontiff praised two kinds of organ donors: those who give their organs while intending to survive afterwards [e.g. kidney donors] and those who pledge to give away their organs after their deaths. 

Francis said that “donation means looking at and going beyond oneself, beyond one's individual needs and opening oneself generously to a wider good.”

"Organ donation is not only an act of social responsibility, but also an expression of the universal fraternity which binds all men and women together,” he added. 

Later Francis delved into ethical issues around organ donation, concentrating solely on commercial interests. 

Vatican News reported that the pontiff “underlined that it was important that organ donation remained an unpaid free act. In fact, he said, ‘any form of commercialization of the body or of a part of it is contrary to human dignity. In giving blood or an organ of the body, it is necessary to respect the ethical and religious perspective.’”

He also suggested that those who do not have religious faith should donate organs through respect for “an ideal of selfless human solidarity.” However, believers, Francis feels, “are called to live it [donation] as an offering to the Lord, who has identified himself who suffer from illness, been in road accidents or accidents at work.” 

The pontiff said also that such acts of generosity “make it clear that life is a sacred thing” and intimated that life is defended and promoted through organ donation. 

However, as an upcoming conference in Rome about brain death will explore, the organ donation movement has redefined death so as to harvest fresh organs.  

The John Paul II Academy for Human Life and the Family (JAHLF) is hosting a two-day conference in Rome from May 20 to 21 on the theme of  “Brain Death: a Medicolegal Construct: Scientific and Philosophical Evidence.” The purpose of the conference is to explain to laypeople what “brain death” actually means, especially in relation to organ transplantation.    

According to JAHLF, person-to-person transplantation requires that organs be fresh and viable. However, these organs can only be obtained from a person who is still alive, no matter how deeply comatose he or she might be. The need for organs has led to the invention of the concept “brain death.” “Brain death” is not true natural death, but rather a medicolegal construct for the main purpose of removing organs from deeply comatose but still living patients. 

Judi Brown of the American Life League invited LifeSiteNews to compare Pope Francis’s remarks to those of Saint John Paul II. 

She wrote, “Contrast Pope Francis' comments with these of Pope St. John Paul II (emphasis mine):”

  1. “That is why in the Encyclical Letter Evangelium Vitae I suggested that one way of nurturing a genuine culture of life "is the donation of organs, performed in an ethically acceptable manner, with a view to offering a chance of health and even of life itself to the sick who sometimes have no other hope" (No. 86).”
  2. “Accordingly, any procedure which tends to commercialize human organs or to consider them as items of exchange or trade must be considered morally unacceptable, because to use the body as an "object" is to violate the dignity of the human person.” 
  3. “Acknowledgement of the unique dignity of the human person has a further underlying consequence: vital organs which occur singly in the body can be removed only after death, that is from the body of someone who is certainly dead.  This requirement is self-evident, since to act otherwise would mean intentionally to cause the death of the donor in disposing of his organs. This gives rise to one of the most debated issues in contemporary bioethics, as well as to serious concerns in the minds of ordinary people. I refer to the problem of ascertaining the fact of death. When can a person be considered dead with complete certainty?”

Brown intimated that she was concerned that Pope Francis had not been as careful as his predecessor to defend the rights of helpless, still living donors. 

“Pope Francis has been so vague as to be viewed as pandering to the organ marketing schemes currently in vogue around the world,” she wrote.  

“What a shame he did not rely on the wisdom of St. John Paul II and choose his words as carefully.” 

Doyon Nguyen of JAHLF, a lay Dominican and professor at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum) in Rome, told LifeSiteNews via email that “organ donation is good, but only insofar as it does not bring about harm, namely the death of the donor.”

She stated that “the bulk of organ donation” occurs after brain death and asserted that brain-dead donors are not actually dead. 

“Medical data have shown the irrefutable evidence that brain-dead donors are not dead, but alive.  A dying person is a person who is still alive.  A deeply comatose person is a person who is still alive,” she wrote. 

Nguyen said further that the philosophical arguments used to justify the declaration of death based on "brain death" protocols contradict “the sound tenets of Christian anthropology as taught and held by the Church.”

“The necessary and important details about "brain death" (e.g., namely that brain dead individuals are still alive and can move) have been carefully kept from the public at large,” she stated. 

“As such, the so-called informed consent for organ removal on their part is not truly informed consent. More often than not, families of brain dead individuals have been nudged into giving consent for the removal of organs of their loved ones. Not a few of the families have subsequently regretted bitterly for having given their consent.” 

Nguyen concluded by asserting that any pope must know what organ donation involves before encouraging it.

“Put simply, in order to make a moral judgment on something XYZ, one is obligated to know the ins and outs about that XYZ.  First, to know the concrete aspect of XYZ (the reality of the thing as is); second, [to know] the philosophical aspects [concerning]  XYZ..., and only then can one make any moral declaration. To make a moral declaration without having made a thorough "walking" through of the first two steps amounts to committing an act of utter irresponsibility, which in the case of "brain death" results in the vivisection of thousands,” she said.

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