Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Organ donor awareness: Know your risks

The following was released today, May 15.

A shocking article in this month's Discover magazine has renewed concern over end-of-life treatment for those willing to donate their organs after death. Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life is calling attention to the issue on behalf of donors and recipients.

"One of the pro-life movement's guiding principles is that every human being, regardless of their strong or weak physical state, has an inalienable right to life and that right cannot be infringed upon by others," said MCCL Executive Director Scott Fischbach.

The Discover article explains how, in 1968, a group of doctors established an entirely new definition of death: the loss of "personhood." This subjective, philosophical determination of "brain death" is now the standard which enables physicians to declare a person to be dead, and then keep the "beating-heart cadaver" warm, pink and breathing until transplant procedures can be performed. Dr. Michael DeVita of the University of Pittsburgh's Medical Center describes this new category of humanity as only "pretty dead."

In 1971, a Minnesota team observed reflexes in moribund patients that looked like signs of life, and pregnant women declared brain-dead have gestated their babies for weeks—in one case, for 107 days. Transplant physicians are reluctant to discuss the possibility that a "brain-dead" organ donor can feel pain.

The cover of this month's Discover offers an ire-and-dire quote: "The organ harvest proceeded over the objections of the anesthesiologist, who saw the brain-dead donor react to the scalpel ..."

"Being a 'donor' means different things to different people. Caution is advised and education is the key for any donor," Fischbach added. "A donor's compassion and generosity represent pro-life ideals—donating blood, plasma, bone marrow and even a kidney can result in little to no impact on the donor's health. We just want them to be well informed when they give their consent."

Knowledge of current health care directive laws is crucial. In Minnesota, health care providers are required to follow a patient's advance care directive (living will, etc.). A patient cannot be denied nutrition and hydration, even at the end of life.

"Nobody knows what, if anything, brain-dead patients experience, and none of them could plausibly return to consciousness to tell us," wrote Discover Editor-in-Chief Corey Powell. "All we can do is read on and take one more step toward an information-based ethics—one that respects death while giving primacy to life."