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“Brain Death” is Not Death By Paul A. Byrne, Cicero G. Coimbra, Robert Spaemann, and Mercedes Arzú Wilson

“Brain Death” is Not Death By Paul A. Byrne, Cicero G. Coimbra, Robert Spaemann, and Mercedes Arzú Wilson

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Published by: vasiliki on Apr 01, 2011
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³Brain Death´ is Not Death!
 By Paul A. Byrne, Cicero G. Coimbra, RobertSpaemann, and Mercedes Arzú Wilson
Mar 2005 (CWR) - On February 3-4, the PontificalAcademy of Sciences, in cooperation with the WorldOrganization for the Family, hosted a meeting at theVatican entitled ³The Signs of Death.´ This essay is basedon the papers that were submitted to the PontificalAcademy as well as the discussions that took place duringthose two days. The meeting was convened at the requestof Pope John Paul II (bio - news) to re-assess the signs of death and verify, at a purely scientific level, the validity of brain-related criteria for death, entering into thecontemporary debate of the scientific community on thisissue.In a message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, madepublic at the February meeting, the Holy Father said thatthe Church has consistently supported ³the practice of transplanting organs from deceased persons.´ However,he cautioned that transplants are acceptable only whenthey are conducted in a manner ³so as to guaranteerespect for life and for the human person.´ The Pope cited his predecessor, Pope Pius XII, who saidthat ³it is for the doctor to give a clear and precisedefinition of death and of the moment of death.´ Heencouraged the Pontifical Academy to pursue that task,promising that scientists could count on the support of Vatican officials, ³especially the Congregation for theDoctrine of the Faith.´ 
 In 1968 the ³Harvard criteria´ for determining brain death
were published in the Journal of the American MedicalAssociation, under the title of ³A Definition of IrreversibleComa.´ This article was published without substantiatingdata, either from scientific research or from case studiesof individual patients. For this reason, a majority of thepresenters at the conference in Rome stated that the³Harvard criteria´ were scientifically invalid.In 2002 the results of a worldwide survey were publishedin Neurology, concluding that the use of the term ³braindeath´ worldwide is ³an accepted fact but there was noglobal consensus on the diagnostic criteria´ and there arestill ³unresolved issues worldwide.´ In fact between 1968and 1978 at least 30 disparate sets of criteria werepublished, and there have been many more since then.Every new set of criteria tends to be less rigid than earliersets and none of them is based on the scientific method of observation and hypothesis followed by verification.Attempts to compare the newer criteria with the timeproven, generally accepted criteria for death-the cessationof circulation, respiration, and reflexes-show that thesecriteria are distinctly different. This has resulted in anunhappy situation for the medical profession. Manyphysicians, who feel that the Hippocratic Oath is beingviolated by acceptance of such disparate sets of criteria,feel the need to expose the fallacy of ³brain death,´ because the noble reputation of the medical profession isat stake.
 In his presentation to the Pontifical Academy, RobertSpaemann-a noted former professor of philosophy fromthe University of Munich-cited the words of Pope Pius XII,who declared that ³human life continues when its vitalfunctions manifest themselves, even with the help of artificial processes.´ Professor Spaemann observed: ³The cessation of breathing and heartbeat, the 'dimming of the eyes,' rigormortis, etc. are the criteria by which since timeimmemorial humans have seen and felt that a fellow
human being is dead.´ But the Harvard criteria³fundamentally changed this correlation between medicalscience and normal interpersonal perception.´ As he putit:Scrutinizing the existence of the symptoms of death asperceived by common sense, science no longerpresupposes the ³normal´ understanding of life and death.It in fact invalidates normal human perception bydeclaring human beings dead who are still perceived asliving.The new approach to defining death, the German scholarcontinued, reflected a different set of priorities:It was no longer the interest of the dying to avoid beingdeclared dead prematurely, but other people's interest indeclaring a dying person dead as soon as possible. Tworeasons are given for this third party interest: 1)guaranteeing legal immunity for discontinuing life-prolonging measures that would constitute a financial andpersonal burden for family members and society alike,and 2) collecting vital organs for the purpose of saving thelives of other human beings through transplantation.These two interests are not the patient's interests, sincethey aim at eliminating him as a subject of his owninterests as soon as possible.The arguments against the use of ³brain death´ as adetermination of death are being made, Spaemann noted,³not only by philosophers, and, especially in my country,by leading jurists, but also by medical scientists.´ Hequoted the words of a German anesthesiologist whowrote, ³Brain-dead people are not dead, but dying.´ 
 Dr. Paul Byrne, a neonatologist from Toledo, Ohio, offereda medical perspective. When organs are removed from a³brain dead´ donor, he testified:All the vital signs of the ³donors´ are still present prior tothe harvesting of organs, such as: normal bodytemperature and blood pressure; the heart is beating;

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