Canadian life groups concerned over organ donation procedure

Catholic life groups greeted with concern the announcement that Ottawa Hospital this week carried out its first non-beating heart organ donation procedure which allows for organ removal even though measurable brain function may still be present.

LifeSiteNews reports that organs may be extracted five minutes after the donor's heart has stopped beating (donation after cardiac death).

Speaking with LifeSiteNews, Dr Moira McQueen, President of the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Centre, said that waiting only five minutes after cessation of cardiovascular circulation was "frankly ... not nearly enough."

She noted there have been cases of auto-resuscitation after more than five minutes without a heart beat. Even though organs may be harmed by waiting for a sure determination of death, the principal concern is an accurate determination of death, since otherwise the patient is being killed by organ extraction.

"The important thing for us is that the person donating has to be dead," Dr McQueen said. "The organs are a secondary consideration, that being established first."

The procedure, also known as donation after cardiac death (DCD), typically involves a person who requires a ventilator and, although he or she has measurable brain function, is determined to have no hope of recovery. The doctors then remove ventilation from the patient and wait for the heart to stop beating. If the heart stops for five minutes, death is pronounced and the organs are harvested by another surgical team.

Organ donation by "brain death" remains controversial after 30 years of the procedure being practiced, but DCD is even more controversial since there is very little time left for ethical considerations.

While with "brain death" organs can be harvested at leisure since machines keep air flowing into the lungs and blood circulating, with DCD the stoppage of the heart necessitates very quick harvesting as organs deteriorate without blood flow.

"The laudable purpose of saving lives does not justify the donation of an organ whose removal could cause the death of a donor," said Jim Hughes, National President of Campaign Life Coalition (CLC).

"Harvesting organs just five minutes after the heart stops is just plain frightening. There are cases of people whose hearts have re-started after a longer period of time," he said.

Controversial Organ Donation Method Begins in Canada - Organs Extracted 5 Minutes after Heart Stops, Catholic Hospitals Considering the Procedure (LifeSiteNews.com 27/6/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Ottawa Hospital Heart Transplant Program
John B. Shea, Non-Heart-Beating Organ Donation (Lifeissues)

Pope says organ transplants must "guarantee respect for life and for the human person" (CathNews 4/2/05)

29 Jun 2006