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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Lisa Bourne

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61% of Americans don’t want Supreme Court to force gay ‘marriage’ on the states: poll

Lisa Bourne
By Lisa Bourne

February 26, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) -- A vast majority of Americans want the government to stay out of their personal affairs when it comes to defining marriage and how they conduct their work lives or businesses, a new survey says. And a great majority also oppose the idea of the Supreme Court forcing the entire country to accept marriage redefinition.

Eighty-one percent of Americans agree with the statement, “Government should leave people free to follow their beliefs about marriage as they live their daily lives at work and in the way they run their businesses,” according to a survey commissioned by the Family Research Council (FRC) and the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB).

The poll breakdown also showed that 80 percent of even those who never attend church believe the government should leave people alone in observing their faith when it comes to marriage. While the figures were very high across the board in support of allowing Americans freedom to practice their faith pertaining to marriage, it was highest among Hispanics at 89 percent.

Along with profound opposition to governmental tampering with religious freedom, more than six in 10 Americans also agreed with the statement, “States and citizens should remain free to uphold marriage as the union of a man and a woman and the Supreme Court shouldn’t force all 50 states to redefine marriage.”

That statistic is especially significant given the Supreme Court is set to rule on the constitutionality of homosexual “marriage” this summer.

The survey was conducted by WPA Opinion Research, which polled 800 registered voters from February 2-4.

A majority of Americans, 53 percent, agree that marriage should be defined only as a union between one man and one woman, the survey also found.

The results fly in the face of the presumption for Americans to concede that the whole country accepts homosexual “marriage,” undoubtedly telling a different story than what the media would have everyone believe, said FRC President Tony Perkins.

"It's clear, based on (this) polling, that Americans have not reached a broad social consensus that marriage should be redefined," Perkins told Baptist Press.

A Fox News poll also found last fall that a more Americans oppose legalization of homosexual “marriage” than support, at 47 percent and 44 percent respectively.

A recent Associated Press poll said most Americans favor not forcing the owners of wedding-related business to go against their religious convictions by compelling them to provide services for homosexual “weddings.”

Perkins also disapproved of any effort by the Supreme Court to impose marriage redefinition nationally.

The court "will be at a point of overreach if they impose a one-size-fits-all definition of marriage on the nation by redefining it," he said.

“What this survey tells us is that the American people won't accept the redefinition of marriage by judicial fiat,” he continued in a statement on the findings.

NRB Jerry President described the survey results as "incredible," and also said it is a "slam dunk" for more than 80 percent of Americans to agree that citizens should be free of governmental interference in the practice of their faith, including in their businesses.

"Government has no right establishing speech codes or business codes on marriage and 81 percent of Americans agree entirely," said Johnson.

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The Center for Arizona Policy also welcomed the survey results, further expressing importance of listening to the will of the people.

“It’s clear that marriage matters to voters,” the group’s President Cathi Herrod said in a statement. “Furthermore, the freedom of belief and the freedom to vote for a cause are of the utmost importance.”

“The Supreme Court should not silence the will of the voters,” she said. “What’s more, the government should not penalize people for believing that marriage is between a man and a woman.” 

Herrod decried religious discrimination with the recent examples where Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran was fired from his job and Washington state florist Barronelle Stutzman is being sued by the state’s attorney general and the ACLU.

“What should be simple matters of disagreement has turned into government coercion,” said Herrod. “Instead of respecting differences of opinion, the government is now being used to stifle differing beliefs.”

Perkins was confident that Americans will not stand by for the redefinition of marriage to be imposed by the nation’s high court.

“If it dares to redefine an institution as old as civilization itself,” he said. “Like life, the marriage debate will only intensify as the American people realize that they'll be required to surrender their fundamental right to live and work according to their beliefs.

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Cardinal Raymond Burke was one of the principal authors and supporters of the book defending the Church's teachings on marriage that was allegedly blocked by Cardinal Baldisseri.
Hilary White Hilary White Follow Hilary

Synod’s chief organizer seized books by top cardinals defending Church’s marriage teachings: report

Hilary White Hilary White Follow Hilary
By Hilary White

ROME, February 26, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Allegations have surfaced this week that the lead organizer of the Vatican’s controversial Synod on the Family in October personally intervened to block the distribution of a book distributed by high-ranking cardinals, including Cardinal Raymond Burke, that defended the Church’s teachings on marriage.

Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, general secretary for the Synod of Bishops, who became the focus of much criticism from bishops at the Synod for allegedly “manipulating” the process, is reported to have ordered that the books be seized, despite them having been posted through the official Vatican City State postal service.

The highly respected Vaticanist Edward Pentin, writing for NewsMax on Wednesday, said “reliable and high level sources” had confirmed that the book, “Remaining in the Truth of Christ,” was “intercepted” on the orders of Cardinal Baldisseri on the grounds that it would “interfere with the synod.” Baldisseri was also said to have been “furious” at the attempt to distribute them.

Cardinal Baldisseri reportedly claimed the books were confiscated because they had been distributed “improperly.” Those entrusted with ensuring the books made it into the hands of the Synod bishops, however, insisted that the books had gone through the regular Vatican postal service, and were therefore legally protected material, Pentin reports.       

The book includes a set of essays defending and explaining the Catholic teaching on the indissoluble nature of marriage and was intended by its authors as a means of clarifying the discussion.

The book was organized and authored by a group of the Church’s highest-ranking prelates – including Cardinal Raymond Burke, then-head of the Vatican’s highest court, and Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – who were gravely alarmed not only at the “proposal” by Cardinal Walter Kasper but at its positive reception among bishops and Catholic laity.

Cardinal Kasper had shocked the Catholic world at last year’s consistory of cardinals by his “suggestion” that the Church change its practice of withholding Communion from people in “irregular unions,” and by his claim that the pope had approved the proposal. The so-called “Kasper proposal” has since become the focal point of a nearly open civil war in the Church in which decades-long divisions between the “liberal/progressives” and orthodox prelates has been revealed by the world’s press.

At the Rome launch on October 6 of a different book opposing Kasper’s proposal, Cardinal George Pell, a member of Pope Francis’ Council of Nine, said that changing the practice or teaching of the Church would be “disastrous.”

Pentin writes, “Those responsible for mailing the books meticulously tried to avoid interception, ensuring the copies were sent through the proper channels within the Italian and Vatican postal systems.” Pentin added that his sources had “strongly” refuted the claim by the Synod’s secretariat that the books had been distributed “irregularly,” saying they had used the normal postal service that is governed according to Vatican state and international law and is known in Rome for its superior service to the Italian postal system.

Throughout the Synod, rumors circulated broadly among the assembled corps of journalists that the highly anticipated books had failed to reach the bishops and had in fact been confiscated on the orders of the Synod’s leadership. At the time, although this strange story had spread widely, none of the principal parties involved in the book’s publication or distribution were willing to come forward.

That rule of silence appears to still be in place; today none of the book’s authors or editors were willing to speak with LifeSiteNews “on the record” to confirm what had happened, and attempts to reach the Synod office went unanswered. It is public knowledge, however, that only a handful of bishops had been able to obtain a copy during the Synod itself.

Edward Pentin reported yesterday that the story has not stopped circulating in Rome since the Synod, despite having been dismissed at a December press conference by Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi. “Since then the allegations have become more widely known and have been corroborated at the highest levels of the church,” Pentin writes, saying that his sources believe the seized books were likely destroyed.

It is notable that the accusation could have a potential of a criminal liability for unlawful seizure of posted materials. The Vatican City State postal service is a member of the Universal Postal Union, a body under the auspices of the UN, which regulates the postal service practice of 192 member states. One Vatican source told LifeSiteNews today that a first attempt had been made to stop the books being sent by the Vatican Post Office, but that the postal workers had refused to cooperate, saying that it would be “unethical” to tamper with the mail.

Baldisseri, appointed as a permanent Secretary of the Synod of Bishops by Pope Francis, has become a public spokesman for the Kasper Proposal and he was heavily criticized during the Synod by many of the bishops themselves, who complained that the process was being strictly controlled to produce a particular outcome.

At a conference in Rome last month, Baldisseri told delegates that “dogma can evolve” and that the purpose of the Synod was not merely to restate Catholic teaching. He also confirmed that the documents of the Synod, including the highly contested “mid-term Relatio” that had called for the Church to “accept and value” the “homosexual orientation” had been read and approved for publication by Pope Francis. 

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Chen Guangcheng contradicts Hillary’s version: Obama admin abandoned him, caved to ‘hooligans’

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By Ben Johnson

WASHINGTON, D.C., February 26, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Chen Guangcheng, the blind lawyer who exposed the brutality of China's one-child policy, is again questioning the official party line – the Obama administration's account. This time he is contradicting Hillary Clinton's story of his escape from home captivity in a new memoir.

Hillary, who was Secretary of State at the time Chen fled his captors and sought refuge in the U.S. Embassy, has steadfastly denied she lobbied Chen to leave the premises, despite tense negotiations with the Chinese. But Chen writes that he felt so pressured and abandoned by U.S. officials, he was “overcome by sadness and wept.”

Chen so angered Chinese officials by uncovering the corruption and coercion of the nation's forced abortion regime that he was imprisoned for years. After his release, he and his family were held under house arrest inside a garrisoned village.

But on April 22, 2012, Chen scaled the wall and ran, on a broken foot, for miles. After going through a series of safe houses, a car took him to Beijing, where he sought sanctuary in the U.S. Embassy.

Hillary and Chen agree on that much – but the rest of their tales diverge.

Hillary spent chapter five of her memoir, "Hard Choices"  “Beijing: The Dissident” – discussing Chen's plight. The light-selling autobiography claims that Hillary got a call on the yellow phone on April 25, telling her about Chen's plea. “I said, 'Go get him,'” she wrote, adding that it “wasn't a close call.” She later told the Council on Foreign Relations that she authorized some “James Bond-ish kind of activity” for his rescue.

But Chen's escape came just days before Clinton was to arrive in China for a diplomatic visit. Chen and those close to him have always maintained that Chen faced coercion to leave the U.S. Embassy – and that U.S. officials broke their word after he complied.

The State Department passed along threats that, if Chen did not leave the Embassy for a Chinese communist-controlled hospital, his family would face repercussions from government officials. Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, while denying any wrongdoing, admitted that “U.S. interlocutors did make clear that if Chen elected to stay in the embassy, Chinese officials had indicated to us that his family would be returned to Shandong, and they would lose their opportunity to negotiate for reunification.”

But in "Hard Choices", Hillary says U.S. officials were so considerate of Chen that the then-ambassador to China, Gary Locke, and State Department Legal Adviser Harold Koh “spent hours sitting with Chen, holding his hand, soothing his fears, and talking about his hopes for the future.”

Hillary maintained, “we had done what Chen said he wanted every step of the way.”

Chen tells a much different tale in his newly published memoir, "The Barefoot Lawyer: A Blind Man's Fight for Justice and Freedom in China", portions of which were published by Canada's National Post.

Chen said he was “pressured to leave” after the State Department accepted an “absurdly inadequate deal” with Chinese officials, essentially trusting them not to harm Guangcheng and his family on their honor.

“I hadn’t expected so many people on both sides would be working so hard to get me to leave, without guaranteeing my rights or my family’s safety,” Chen wrote. “No one seemed to be putting pressure on the Chinese Communist Party; instead they were dumping shipping containers of weight onto my shoulders to get me to do their bidding.”

Ultimately, he left the Embassy, filled with “disappointment and despair.” He said he “was overcome by sadness and wept.”

“What troubled me most at the time was this: when negotiating with a government run by hooligans, the country that most consistently advocated for democracy, freedom, and universal human rights had simply given in,” he said.

Those who were involved with the events as they unfolded agree that Hillary's account is off-base.

“I completely support Chen Guangcheng's account,” Reggie Littlejohn of Women's Rights Without Frontiers told LifeSiteNews. “In sharp contrast to Hillary Clinton's self-glorifying version, the actions of the U.S. government were a great disappointment to Chen and to the human rights community.”

“Why did U.S. officials pressure Chen to leave by May 2?” asked Littlejohn, who met Chen's plane when he finally landed on U.S. soil on May 19. “This was the very day that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was to arrive in Beijing for trade talks. To all appearances, the State Department under Hillary Clinton was willing to sacrifice one of the great human rights activists of the world in order to conduct unimpeded trade talks.”

Littlejohn and others familiar with the events have told the same story since it occurred.

“The State Department likes to say now that they played some kind of a heroic role,” Littlejohn told LifeSiteNews in an exclusive video interview at the time. “I would dispute that characterization of their actions.”

Bob Fu, the president of China Aid and a longtime associate of Chen, said at the time that Chen Guangcheng said that “he was under enormous pressure to leave the Embassy. Some people almost made him feel he was being a huge burden to the U.S.”

After Chen left for a hospital, he said the State Department did not keep its promises to protect him.

Chen said U.S. officials were not taking his calls, nor had they accompanied him from the embassy to the hospital, as they promised. “The Embassy kept lobbying me to leave and promised to have people stay with me in the hospital,” where his room was surrounded by at least 10 plainclothes guards, he said. “As soon as I checked into the hospital room, I noticed they were all gone.”

“Nobody from the (U.S.) Embassy is here. I don’t understand why. They promised to be here,” he said.

President Obama refused to comment on the matter on April 30.

Days later, Congressional Republicans called a hearing, where Rep. Chris Smith, R-NJ, and then-Congressman Frank Wolf pressured the Obama administration to fix the “scandal.” Chen telephoned the May 3 hearing, and Bob Fu translated as Chen spoke to him: “I want to meet with Secretary Clinton. I hope I can get more help from her,” he said. “I really am afraid for my other family members’ lives.”

Chen specifically thanked Congressman Smith and other Congressional leaders in his book.

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Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney also criticized the Obama administration's handling of the affair.

“Eventually, as a result of efforts on many fronts, the Chinese authorities had no choice but to allow me, my wife and my children to leave for the United States,” Chen wrote last year. He arrived on U.S. soil on May 19 and is now a fellow at The Witherspoon Institute.

This is not the first time Chen has criticized Hillary's book. He disputed Clinton's assertion that Chinese Communist officials had been “scrupulous” about living up to their commitments in a June 24, 2014, op-ed for The Washington Post.

“Not only has the Chinese government relentlessly persecuted members of my family since my departure, it also never investigated its prior abuses, as it committed to do. And it imprisoned my nephew, who remains in jail today,” he wrote. “Clinton and her staff were keenly aware of the attacks on my family.”

Despite the fact that Chen's account undermines a major part of Hillary Clinton's autobiography – and calls into question her judgment and commitment to human rights – it has made few ripples in the U.S. media. The two primary stories have been in Canada's National Post and the Telegraph of London.

“I bet that most of you have never heard about any of this before,” Moe Lane wrote at RedState.com. “And it’s largely because Hillary Clinton is a Democrat, and Chris Smith is a Republican.”

The America Rising PAC, a Republican political action committee, commented, “while Clinton hides from the press potentially through the summer, no one will have a chance to ask her why Chen’s account flatly contradicts her own – a story she directly profited from by including it in her book.”

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