Missouri Right to Life Policy on Taking Organs for Transplant
No organs should be removed from a person for transplant until the person is dead. Current practices do not assure that death has occurred before organs are removed.
Every human being is unique, and his or her life is sacred, not to be cut short artificially. No human being should be treated as a means rather than an end. In the context of donations of organs, these universal principles mean that no one’s life should be ended for the purpose of taking organs for use by others. Rather, only after a person has died may his or her organs be taken, and then only after informed consent has been given.
Recent articles in medical journals and commentary by informed writers have indicated that this basic ethical rule is violated too often. Nancy Valko, R.N., “Death and the Organ Donor,” Voices (Women for Faith and Family, Eastertide, 2009) (online at www.wf-f.org/ MedicalMoral.html). “Brain death,” a legal measure for determining death under most states’ laws, is now questioned as a reliable indicator of death. Furthermore, the procedures for measuring “brain death” vary in significant ways from institution to institution, so even if in principle it was reliable, in practice it is not. Valko, id., citing the President’s Council on Bioethics, “Controversies in the Determination of Death: A White Paper” (January, 2009).
The traditional measure of death has always been the end of heartbeat and breathing. That is the basis of a newer practice known as “donation after cardiac death” or DCD (formerly known as “non-heartbeating organ donation” or NHBD). According to this measure, a person is dead after “irreversible” cessation of heartbeat and breathing, but caution making the determination of death is discarded. The presumption is that any cessation of heartbeat and breathing when people are in serious straits is “irreversible.” Valko, describing the findings of the President’s Council on Bioethics, has written, “Most people would consider ‘irreversible’ in this context to mean that the heart has lost the ability to beat. But in DCD/NHBD, ‘irreversible’ instead means that there is a deliberate decision not to try to restart the heart when it stops and that enough time has elapsed to ensure that the heart will not resume beating on its own.” Valko, id. In other words, a short cessation of heartbeat, even if the heart could be restarted easily, is used to judge a person to be dead, and organs are harvested right away.
Organs from cadavers may legitimately be taken, if informed consent has been given by the deceased person ahead of time or by authorized family members, but to shorten a person’s life in order to take organs is an abuse that Missouri Right to Life opposes.