Denise J. Hunnell, MD

The erosion of ethics in organ transplantation: what’s a Catholic to do?

Denise J. Hunnell, MD
By Denise Hunnell MD

November 19, 2012 (Zenit.org) – Caleb Beaver died at age 16 on Christmas Day in 2011 due to a previously undiagnosed congenital malformation of his blood vessels. His devastated parents agreed to the donation of his heart, kidneys, lungs, liver, and pancreas. Several months later, his mother and father were able to meet with the grateful recipient of Caleb’s heart and hear their son’s beating heart in this new body.  While the meeting could not erase their grief, the meeting offered Caleb’s parents a small bit of consolation that his death had brought life to someone else.

Organ donation can certainly be a supreme act of generosity. Pope John Paul II endorsed organ transplantation in both his encyclical Evangelium Vitae as well as his 2000 address to the 18th International Congress of the Transplantation Society as a way to build up an “authentic culture of life”. However, Pope John Paul II was also careful to insist that this lifesaving technology must be governed by critical ethical principles in order to fulfill its life affirming potential.

The first principle is the donation must be voluntary and free of all coercion. That is why there can be no sale of human organs: the prospect of financial profit would put pressure on the poor to sell their organs for subsistence. A marketplace approach would also unfairly favor those who have the means to pay as organ recipients. Second, the human dignity of both the donor and the recipient must be respected. A potential organ donor must always be seen first as a human being and a patient deserving of optimal medical care. He should never be viewed as merely a cluster of organs waiting to be harvested. With this in mind, respect for human life from conception to natural death prohibits the removal of vital organs for transplant until after a patient has died.

The explosion in organ transplant technology has resulted in a tremendous shortage of available organs. Over 6,500 patients died in 2011 while they were waiting for an organ transplant. With so many patients facing death without a transplant, it is not surprising that a black market for human organs has emerged. Organ trafficking has become a major enterprise of organized crime in Latin America, Asia and the Middle East. Western nations in Europe as well as the United States are not immune from this exploitive trade. According to the European Society of Organ Transplantation, those most likely to sell their organs include the poor, the hungry, the socially marginalized, and illegal immigrants and refugees. Dr. Francis Delmonico, a Harvard transplant surgeon, estimates that 10% of all kidney transplants worldwide are performed with illegally trafficked organs. While many governments have enacted penalties for organ trafficking, few are aggressively seeking to eliminate the black market trade of human body parts.

Perhaps even more worrisome than the deplorable practice of buying and selling human organs are the trends emerging in mainstream medicine. Two of the principles outlined by Pope John Paul II, the expectation that a potential donor is viewed as a fully human patient first, and the requirement that a donor of vital organs be dead before the organs are harvested, have long been cornerstones of transplant programs. The shortages of available organs for transplant have motivated some to question the need for such standards.

Normally, patients are not evaluated as possible organ donors until after a decision to remove life sustaining medical care is made. This ensures that the decision to withdraw extraordinary means of support is made without coercion from the transplant team waiting for the patient’s organs. The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), a nonprofit organization contracted by the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to administer the nation’s organ transplant program, is revising the requirements for organ donation programs in order to allow patients to be evaluated as potential organ donors before any decisions are made about the withdrawal of life sustaining measures. The first attempt by UNOS to revise the guidelines actually designated specific neurological diseases such as high level spinal cord injuries, muscular dystrophy, and Lou Gehrig’s disease as conditions to be flagged as potential organ donors on any admission to the hospital. This brought such an outcry from disability advocates that the current revision no longer recommends singling out specific diagnoses for organ donation. Instead, all patients will be evaluated as potential donors, and no consultation with families is required. In fact, UNOS states that it is unnecessary to obtain consent for organ donation from the next of kin or other health care surrogate if a patient has indicated they want to be an organ donor through something like a living will or a check in the organ donor box on their drivers license. This rush to label a patient as an organ donor effectively removes the protective barrier between patient care and preparation for organ donation, thus diminishing the trust between patients and their doctors.

Equally disturbing is the push to remove vital organs from living patients. Since the first transplants were done, there has been a lively debate over what constitutes death, and such discussions are still active today. Some advocate for criteria that rely on the presence or absence of cardiovascular circulation and define death as the absence of a beating heart. Others push for the absence of electrical brain activity to be the gold standard of death. Until recently, the issue was always centered on reaching maximum certainty that death has occurred before harvesting organs for transplant. Now the emphasis is shifting to making sure the patient is “close enough” to dead for transplant.

In their book Death, Dying, and Organ Transplantation, Drs. Franklin Miller and Robert Truog argue that it is not necessary to wait for death in patients who are voluntary organ donors and in whom death is imminent. In Canada, the Canadian Council for Donation and Transplantation markedly loosened the neurological criteria required for organ harvesting, leading critics to question whether the patients declared dead under the new liberalized criterion are really dead.

Standard protocols for donation after circulatory death typically require a two to five minute delay from the time heart function ceases to the time organs are removed. The new UNOS requirements discussed above remove any required waiting period before removing organs after the heart stops. Each transplant center is free to define circulatory death as it sees fit. As a utilitarian ethic becomes mainstream and donor death becomes optional, the need for certainty of death becomes superfluous.

Clearly, these developments are at odds with Catholic ethical principles. The Ethical Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services clearly state:

63. Catholic health care institutions should encourage and provide the means whereby those who wish to do so may arrange for the donation of their organs and bodily tissue, for ethically legitimate purposes, so that they may be used for donation and research after death.

64. Such organs should not be removed until it has been medically determined that the patient has died. In order to prevent any conflict of interest, the physician who determines death should not be a member of the transplant team.

So what is a Catholic to do? As with other end of life decisions, it is important to designate a health care surrogate who will make sure your health care conforms to Catholic principles when you are unable to speak for yourself. In light of the increasing speed with which organs are removed from patients who have previously designated themselves as organ donors, it is wise to consider carefully the possible consequences of making your intentions to be an organ donor public through an advanced directive or a checked box on your drivers license. When possible, know your health care facility. Ideally, your hospital should be able to provide some assurance that any organ procurement protocol will assure quality care to the donor until the time of natural death and no vital organs will be removed before a patient is dead.

Organ transplantation, when done ethically, remains a heroic act of generosity.  This legitimate and life-saving practice must not be degraded by turning human organs into commodities, and turning seriously wounded or disabled persons into mere suppliers of organs.

Denise Hunnell, MD, is a Fellow of Human Life International, the world’s largest international pro-life organization. This article originally appeared on Zenit.org and is reprinted with permission.

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President Obama speaks at Planned Parenthood's national conference in 2013.
Lisa Bourne

Obama to speak at Catholic Health Association’s annual meeting

Lisa Bourne
By Lisa Bourne

June 2, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The Catholic alliance that defied the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in supporting Barack Obama’s controversial overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system is persisting in its close relationship with the president, giving him a venue to further endorse ObamaCare at its annual meeting.

Obama will “focus on the future of health care and the Affordable Care Act,” when he delivers the “Future of Healthcare Address” June 9, closing the Catholic Health Association’s (CHA) annual membership meeting and marking the organization’s 100th year, a CHA statement said.

“We are delighted and honored that President Obama will speak to Catholic health care leaders gathered for our 100th anniversary as an association,” CHA president and CEO Sister Carol Keehan stated. “As long-time supporters of a health care system that works for everyone and pays special attention to those who are poor and vulnerable, we are grateful for the president’s leadership on the ACA.”

Sister Keehan was a crucial ObamaCare proponent. She later received one of the 21 ceremonial pens Obama used to sign the measure into law. She was also a beneficiary of his public, personal gratitude for her assistance in getting the law passed.

Pro-abortion Catholic politicians cited Keehan and CHA's support for the law, despite ObamaCare’s compulsory taxpayer funding of contraception and abortifacients, in justifying their support for the law.

In 2010, the late Cardinal Francis George, then president of the USCCB, said that culpability for ObamaCare’s passage lies at the feet of Sister Keehan and other Catholic groups that split from the bishops to support the pro-abortion legislation.

"The Catholic Health Association and other so-called Catholic groups provided cover for those on the fence to support Obama and the administration," Cardinal George said at the time, adding that "Sister Carol and her colleagues are to blame" for the passage of the health care bill.

The cardinal and bishops had met personally with her numerous times to communicate about the law and continually came away frustrated.

"The bill which was passed is fundamentally flawed. The executive order is meaningless. Sr. Carol is mistaken in thinking that this is pro-life legislation," the cardinal stated, also saying that the CHA and the groups have "weakened the moral voice of the bishops in the U.S." with their actions in regard to ObamaCare.

Sister Keehan, who was pressured off of the Knights of Malta’s Holy Family Hospital Foundation as a result of her ObamaCare support, continued in defending the embattled law in her statement announcing the president’s upcoming appearance to further tout it.

“This important law has provided meaningful health coverage to at least 16 million people who needed and deserved it, as well as improved both the benefits and finances of Medicare and Medicaid,” said Sister Keehan. “We look forward to the president's comments and insights at our assembly, and to being a continued partner in preserving and improving the ACA.”

One Catholic blogger criticized the CHA for having Obama come speak to its membership.

Kathy Schiffer of the Seasons of Grace blog pronounced herself “disgusted and horrified.”

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“What in the world, I wonder, could this president have to say to Catholics about health care?” Schiffer asked.

She then listed Obama’s policy offenses against Catholics, including seeking to penalize Catholic organizations that oppose funding contraception and abortifacients, and his refusal to acknowledge that Catholic organizations are religious employers for the purpose of religious liberty.

Schiffer’s examples illustrating the irreconcilable invitation for Obama to speak to Catholic healthcare professionals also included mention of the threat of Catholic hospitals closing because of his policies requiring contraception and sterilization. Statistics show that large numbers of Catholic doctors plan to retire early and leave healthcare because of the ACA.

Schiffer wrote that she believed it was her responsibility to share her concerns “and to encourage others to express their concerns as well–inviting the Catholic Health Association to abide by Church teaching, and to return to the faith passed on to us by the Apostles.”

Contact:

The Catholic Health Association of the United States

Sister Carol Keehan:
[email protected]

Board of Trustees Staff Contact Candice T. Hall:
[email protected]
1875 Eye Street NW, Suite 1000
Washington, DC 20006
PH: (202) 296-3993
FX: (202) 296-3997 

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Ben Johnson Ben Johnson Follow Ben

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Bruce Jenner wanted to abort his oldest daughter

Ben Johnson Ben Johnson Follow Ben
By Ben Johnson

HOLLYWOOD, CA, June 2, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Bruce Jenner has spared the public virtually nothing during his public transformation into “Caitlyn,” but one detail of his life emerged in the story that accompanies that much-shared Vanity Fair cover: The former Olympic medalist wanted his oldest daughter, Casey, aborted and refused to be at the hospital during her birth.

During the height of his fame, Bruce Jenner was married to Chrystie Crownover. Their nine-year marriage produced two children: Burt (Burton) and Casey (Cassandra).

But Bruce learned about Casey in the midst of a divorce battle and told Chrystie he wanted her to get rid of the child.

“When I found out I was pregnant Bruce raised the issue of an abortion, and I went along with him just as I always did. I had all the tests and had even paid for the operation,” Chrystie wrote in People magazine in 1981, the year they divorced. “But one night I was out to dinner and my friend asked me why I wanted an abortion.”

Her answer was simple: “I don't want the abortion,” she said. “Bruce wants it.”

Her friend responded, “You are having the abortion because the man that you are not going to be living with wants you to have it?"

“I thought, what an idiot I am,” Chrystie wrote. “I wanted the child very, very much.”

She gave birth to a baby girl in June 1980. Bruce chose not to be present at her birth, telling Vanity Fair his night consisted of crying in a hotel room.

However, his attitude changed. Chrystie wrote that after giving birth, “Bruce has been very loving and accepting of Casey.”

Although the articles were publicly available, Casey said she did not know about her father's initial reaction until she was 13 years old. She overheard a few cryptic remarks Bruce made to his ex-wife during a fight, telling Vanity Fair that she remembers at age 13 “asking my mom what he was talking about, until she confessed the history behind my birth.”

Casey has since reconciled with her father – and her mother has never questioned her decision to give birth, even in life apart from the decathlon winner.

“My fulfillment 10 years ago was totally through a man,” Chrystie wrote. “Today the important things in my life are my kids, my design work, my friends, and my running, and I feel fulfilled by those.” 

Like Chrystie almost did, many women abort under duress, feeling they have no choice but to follow the instructions of their husband, boyfriend, or parents.

Bruce Jenner went on to have six children with three wives.

Casey tells Vanity Fair that she supports her father's public and conspicuous transition into “Caitlyn.” But some of his other six children have reacted differently.

Seventeen-year-old Kylie Jenner, Bruce's youngest child with third wife, Kris, admitted last month, “I feel like I go through these times where I hate my life.”

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She told her father she missed their bonding times, saying, “I wish you were out here to do crazy things with me.” She then told the television audience, "Me and my dad have so many things in common, [but] he's making all of these changes.”

Kylie has denied rumors that she has had an abortion.

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Steve Weatherbe

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Gay atheist rips into Irish bishops’ weak response on gay ‘marriage’

Steve Weatherbe
By Steve Weatherbe

June 2, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) -- A leading British commentator who is both a homosexual and an atheist has come down hard on the leadership of the Catholic Church in Ireland for what he calls its complacent “willingness to bend to prevailing mood” on Ireland’s same-sex “marriage” referendum.

The Irish voted two-to-one for allowing homosexual “marriage.” This result met with the full approval of Matthew Parris, a former Conservative MP and current columnist for the Spectator and Times newspapers who has been in a civil partnership with his longtime homosexual partner Julian Glover since 2006. He nonetheless devoted a scathing column in the Spectator to condemning the Catholic episcopate for undercutting its own beliefs with its tepid response to the referendum result.

He cited Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, who told Irish broadcaster RTE, “The Church needs a reality check right across the board, to look at the things we are doing well and look at the areas where we need to say, have we drifted away completely from young people?” Martin went on to question the effectiveness of the Church’s involvement in the school system, since polling indicated young people proved especially keen on legalizing same-sex “marriage.”

But Martin’s humble, apologetic self-examination was not what Parris wanted from the Church he disbelieves in, though his Wikipedia entry indicates he was never a member. What he wanted to see was something like “Moses’ (and God’s) furious reaction to the nude dancing and heretical worship of Moloch in the form of a golden calf: the Sin of the Calf in the Hebrew literature.”

Archbishop Martin went on the describe Ireland’s vote as a “social revolution” which must serve as a “reality check” for Church leaders about how bad a job they are doing as teachers and pastors.

What should Martin have said? According to Parris, “The conservative Catholic’s only proper response to [the referendum result] is that 62 per cent in a referendum does not cause a sin in the eyes of God to cease to be a sin.”

“Can’t these Christians see that the moral basis of their faith cannot be sought in the pollsters’ arithmetic? What has the Irish referendum shown us? It is that a majority of people in the Republic of Ireland in 2015 do not agree with their church’s centuries-old doctrine that sexual relationships between two people of the same gender are a sin.”

Parris went on to argue that Christians more than other religious believers ought to expect their teachings to be unpopular, given “the fate of their Messiah, and the persecution of adherents to the Early Church. ‘Blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute you,’ says Paul.”

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Parris concludes with a question. He wonders if Martin’s response -- and Pope Francis’ too -- to the Irish loss, reveal that they never really believed their moral positions were from God after all –“that on some half-conscious level neither ever really believed that morality was absolute or objective anyway — or supposed we really thought they were serious? Have some of us, in short, made the mistake of taking the church at its word?”

Parris’s argument at this point rests on an atheist’s typically truncated understanding of Christian teaching—that it consists solely of repeating God’s word as distilled from the Bible. Clearly it has never occurred to him that the Church has developed a moral theology based on reason and the concept of natural law which it has passed down in the form of millennia-old Tradition (not “centuries-old” as Parris puts it).  That homosexuality is a sin not because God says so, but that God says so because He is the designer of humanity and ought to know best how we function.

But this does not necessarily make Parris wrong in his assessment of the Catholic hierarchy’s milquetoast response to the referendum. Raised in a time when the Church’s power was peaking, entering seminary with the expectation of preferment and perquisites, most current bishops never signed on to be reviled like Jesus Christ was, or, perhaps worse, ignored as an irrelevant anachronism.

So the answer to his question could be that the current Church leadership is indeed suffering from a crisis of doubt, but this need not be true of earlier generations, and is not even an accurate characterization of the Catholic faithful or bishops in the developing countries in Africa and Asia. There persecution is growing, and the Faith is strong.

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