April 18, 2024

Pope endorses organ transplants

… but refuses to take sides in controversy over dead-donor rule.

Despite a simmering controversy over organ transplants, especially amongst Catholic bioethicists, Pope Benedict XVI has given them his blessing. “Organ donation is a unique testimony of charity,” he told an internatioanl congress sponsored by the Pontifical Academy for Life, the International Federation of Catholic Medical Associations, and the Italian National Transplant Center.

In recent months several ethicists, Catholic and non-Catholic, have suggested that patients who are brain dead are not really dead. The arguments are subtle and complex, but for the medical layman, they raise the harrowing possibility that some donors are being killed for their organs. There have been two very different reactions. Some Catholic doctors have concluded that many transplants are unethical and should be stopped. Some non-Catholics argue that almost-dead patients are dead enough. They want the “dead-donor rule” to be scrapped so that comatose, but living, patients can give vital organs.

Instead of taking sides, the Pope emphasised that vital organs may only be taken from dead bodies. In an allusion to the controversy, he declared that “Over recent years science has made further progress in ascertaining the death of a patient. It is good, then, that the achieved results receive the consensus of the entire scientific community in favor of looking for solutions that give everyone certainty. In an environment such as this, the minimum suspicion of arbitrariness is not allowed.”

He also called for “total certainty” about the death of a patient – “and where total certainty has not been reached, the principle of caution should prevail”. ~ Zenit, Nov 7