Monday, November 10, 2008

Organ Donation and the Dead Donor Rule

Recently, Pope Benedict has been teaching on the issue of organ donation. Since the advent of the Non-heartbeating donor protocol, the certainty of the death of the donor has been seriously compromised. The issue of the death of the donor is an important one for Catholic morality. Put simply, it is immoral to bring about the donor's death by removing organs.

In an editorial from the St. Louis Review of May 23, 2003, a form of organ donation is brought into question.

Uncertainty about the moment of death has resulted in a hotly
debated organ donation protocol known as Non-Heart-Beating Organ Donation
(NHBD). (The editorial indicates that the determination of death is not based upon the so-called brain death criteria, but when the patient is removed from a respirator even though there is still brain function. Then the doctors wait to see if the heart stops beating for a time).

In NHBD some patients will be pronounced dead because their hearts did not begin to beat on their own or they were not given CPR within the 2 to 5 minutes determined by the protocol. A do not resuscitate order or a living will to that effect will prevent the CPR, of course. But because there is no sure bet that the patient's heart will stop after removal from the machine, the "death watch" begins -- a process that is aborted after 60 minutes if, indeed, the blood pressure and pulse continue. This means, of course, that the patient who was abandoned to death an hour earlier by the attending physician was, in fact, quite alive.

(The editorial next calls for a reconsideration of this protocol).

The NHBD protocol is cruel and dangerous and does not meet standards of respect for human life. Even the action of removal of the ventilator from a patient destined to become a donor could constitute a grave injustice against human life if the intention in doing so is to cause or hasten death. All hospitals should impose an immediate moratorium upon the procedure until such time as clearer, objective moral standards of determination of death are enacted. The conscience rights of all medical personnel who object to these procedures should be respected and protected.

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