Ethicist warns against live organ procedures

A St Paul's Theological College ethicist has expressed concern about moves by an Australian Health Ethics Committee working party to extend transplant preparations to living patients certain to die from cardiac death.

The Sunday Age reports that the Australian Health Ethics Committee's working party is seeking to extend transplant preparations to living patients who are certain to die from cardiac death - when the heart and circulation stop. Only brain-dead patients are now prepared for transplants.

The procedure involves inserting tubes into major arteries to prepare for cleansing of organs after death, blood tests and drug administration to better preserve organs.

But Ray Campbell, a lecturer in medical ethics at St Paul's Theological College, an institute affiliated with the Holy Spirit Seminary of Queensland, warned that present consent arrangements would not cover those currently on the registry.

"I don't believe anyone who has consented to be an organ donor at this time would have envisaged this kind of procedure," he said.

The proposal outlined in the National Health and Medical Research Council's draft consultation paper wants to change the current definition of death to include cases where there are a "cessation of circulation."

Peter Joseph, chairman of the AHEC working party on organ donation, explains that, "There is only one state of death but there are two ways in which a doctor can certify death as having occurred: brain death and cessation of circulation."

Brain death is when doctors conclude through tests that a patient has lost all brain function completely and permanently. Organs can then be preserved for donation by putting the person on a ventilator.

"In people who are brain dead, these preparations are legitimate and present no ethical barrier; brain death is easy," Dr Joseph said.

"If somebody has died by cessation of circulation, in other words, if the heart has stopped beating ... within a few minutes the organs deteriorate by themselves.

"So, to maximise their gift, to make the best use of the most organs, it is necessary to make these interventions."

When asked whether it was possible someone could be aware they were being prepared for harvesting, Dr Joseph said: "Yes, it would (be possible)." But he said it would not be done without the permission of the donor or the family.

Mr Campbell, who also made a submission to the committee, said he was concerned the changes would hasten the desire of doctors to move from therapeutic treatment to one that would see the patient die more quickly.

"Any attempt to water down our current definition of death should be resisted," he said.

Meanwhile, a Seoul cardinal and all priests in the Seoul archdiocese have pledged to donate their organs posthumously "for love" and urged all Koreans to follow their example. Their pledge is part of a pro-life project launched for the Eucharistic Congress.

According to AsiaNews Cardinal Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk said: "Posthumous organ donation is a supreme expression of love and happiness since it is a sharing of life, the most precious gift we received from God. Through this sharing, both donors and receivers can be happy."

Bid to use live organ donors (The Age 8/7/06)
Seoul cardinal and priests to donate organs posthumously "for love" (AsiaNews 7/7/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
St Paul's Theological College, Brisbane
Australian Health Ethics Committee

Canadian life groups concerned over organ donation procedure (CathNews 29/6/06)

10 Jul 2006