Organ donation discussed at UK symposium

2012-05-08 Vatican Radio

Two weeks ago in England, a young man who suffered severe brain injuries claimed his family had to prevent doctors turning off his life-support machine while he was in a coma. Steven Thorpe had been declared brain-dead, even though his heart was still beating. Brain death is a criteria often used to determine when life-support devices are turned off, or when organs can be harvested for donation. Cases like Thorpe’s have raised questions on the morality of harvesting organs from people who have been declared brain-dead.

“Most donation after death in the whole of the western world happen when the heart is still beating, the so-called beating heart cadavers, so it is very important for people that this body that doesn’t look like a typical dead body, to be sure it really is dead,” said Dr. David Albert Jones, the director of the UK-based Anscombe Bioethics Centre, a British Catholic institute that engages with the moral questions arising in clinical practice and biomedical research.

The Centre was scheduled on Tuesday evening to host a conference discussing ‘Catholic Perspectives on Organ Donation.’

Dr. Jones told Vatican Radio it is not just brain-death which is a concern, but there are also ethical issues surrounding organ donation from those whose heart has stopped beating.

“The issue which surround circulatory death is mainly how long the heart has stopped before you take the organs out because…you need to take the organs as soon as possible so that they are usable,” he said. “Even though it is true that the heart has stopped, it isn’t clear that it couldn’t be started again.”

Tuesday evening’s discussion was being recorded, and will be made available on the website of the Anscombe Bioethics Centre.

Listen to the full interview by Charles Collins with Dr. David Albert Jones: