Statement Opposing Brain Death Criteria

Below is a position statement, signed by over 120 people from 19 nations, including physicans, philosophers, and theologians, opposing brain death criteria for human death. It has been released through the auspices of Earl Appelby, Jr. of Citizens United Resisting Euthanasia (cureltd@ix.netcom.com; he would have the most updated list of those who signed the statement), but those who signed the list are a very diverse group. I hope that the list both stimulates discussion and makes the wider community aware that there are a large number of individuals who believe that there are good reasons for opposing brain death criteria.

Michael Potts, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Philosophy, Methodist College, Fayetteville, NC; personal e-mail: mpotts20@hotmail.com

“Brain Death” – Enemy of Life and Truth

Pope John Paul II’s August 29, 2000, address to the International Congress of the Transplantation Society has awakened renewed interest in the ongoing controversies surrounding “brain death” and organ transplantation. Inasmuch as these controversies quite literally involve matters of life and death physical and spiritual, a clear understanding of their nature is vital to the survival of both life and truth, life’s guardian. Since the question of organ transplantation cannot be properly judged either logically or ethically in the absence of what the Pope describes as “a scientifically secure means of identifying the biological signs that a person has indeed died” (4), we must first examine the concept of “brain death,” which serves as the rationalization for the removal of vital organs from those described as “donors.”

“Brain Death”

Noting a shift in emphasis in the determination of death “from the traditional cardio-respiratory signs to the so-called ” neurological criterion,” the Holy Father states that this change consists in “establishing, according to clearly determined parameters commonly held by the international scientific community, the complete and irreversible cessation of all brain activity (in the cerebrum, cerebellum, and brain stem).” (5) The parameters variously set forth for declaring a person “brain dead,” however, are neither “clearly determined” nor are they “commonly held” by the scientific community. Rather the myriad permutations of “brain death” criteria introduced since the publication of the revealingly titled “A Definition of Irreversible Coma” in 1968 -more than 30 sets in the first decade alone have grown increasingly permissive. At the same time, a growing number of members of the scientific community have taken a closer look at “brain death” and are voicing their concerns. To know with moral certainty that “the complete and irreversible cessation of all brain activity (in the cerebrum, cerebellum, and brain stem)” has occurred would require the total absence of all circulation and respiration. Confirmation of this absence would necessitate that the cerebrum, cerebellum, and brain stem have been destroyed and the circulatory and respiratory systems as well. None of the shifting sets of “so-called neurological criterion” for determining death fulfills the Pope’s requirement that they be “rigorously applied” to ascertain “the complete and irreversible cessation of all brain activity.” (5) In fact, “brain death” is not death, and death ought not to be declared unless the entire brain and the respiratory and circulatory systems have been destroyed.

Organ Transplantation

Reiterating his words in Evangelium Vitae (86), the Holy Father “suggested that one way of nurturing a genuine Culture of Life is the donation of organs, performed in an ethically acceptable manner.” (1) A manner that is “ethically acceptable” is one that corresponds to the Natural Moral Law and its four axioms: (1) Good ought to be done, and evil must be avoided. (2) Good may not be withheld. (3) Evil may not be done. (4) Evil may not be done that good might come of it. Thus the harvesting of organs in a manner that would bring about the debilitating mutilation or the death of the “donor” would not be “ethically acceptable.” Describing the decision to donate an organ quite aptly as “a decisive gesture,” the Pope cautioned, “The human authenticity of such a decisive gesture requires the individuals to be properly informed about the processes involved, in order to be in a position to consent or decline in a free and conscientious manner.” (3) To be properly informed, the person considering organ donation should be educated about the nature of organ transplantation. In particular, he should be advised that prior to excision, his heart is healthy and capable of normal circulation and respiration, but after any vital organ necessary and required to live has been moved from his body, he will die. The prospective “donor” should also be informed that a paralyzing agent will be administered to prevent him from moving when the incision is made and advised whether anesthesia will be administered to him prior to the excision of his organs, as has been recommended by anesthesiologists. Lest freedom be confused with license, it must be noted that freedom consists in the liberty to exercise one’s free will in accordance with right reason, which seeks good and avoids evil. To murder oneself or another can never be in accord with right reason. The Holy Father makes a critical restriction on the removal of organs in light of “the unique dignity of the human person,” stipulating that “vital organs which occur singly in the body can be removed only after death, that is from the body from someone who is certainly dead.” (4) He goes on to add that “the requirement is self-evident, since to act otherwise would mean intentionally to cause the death of the donor in disposing of his organs.” (4) For vital organs to be suitable for transplantation, however, they must be living organs removed from living human beings. Moreover, as noted above, persons condemned to death as “brain dead” are not “certainly dead” but, to the contrary, are certainly alive. Thus adherence to the restrictions stipulated by the Pope and the prohibitions imposed by God Himself in the Natural Moral Law precludes the transplantation of unpaired vital organs, an act which causes the death of the “donor” and violates the fifth commandment of the divine Decalogue, “Thou shalt not kill” (Deut. 5:17).

Paul A. Byrne, M.D., FAAP, Past President, Catholic Medical Association, Oregon, Ohio

Walt F. Weaver, M.D., FACC, Clinical Associate Professor, School of Medicine, University of Nebraska, Omaha, Nebraska

Prof. Josef Seifert, Ph.D., Rector, International Academy for Philosophy, Furstentum, Liechtenstein

Mercedes Arzu Wilson, L.H.D., President, Family of the Americas Foundation, Dunkirk, Maryland

Bishop Fabian Wendelin Bruskewitz, Diocese of Lincoln, Lincoln, Nebraska

Bishop Robert F. Vasa, Diocese of Baker, Baker, Oregon

Julie Grimstad, Director, Center for the Rights of the Terminally Ill, Stevens Point, Wisconsin

Earl E. Appleby, Jr., Director, Citizens United Resisting Euthanasia, Berkeley Springs, West Virginia

Neleide Abila, Professor of Law, Universidade Paranaense, Guiara, Brazil

Marcos Antonio Aranda, M.D., Director, ICU Chief, Department of Pulmonology, Hospital Clinicordis, S?o Paulo, Brazil

Christopher R. Bell, President, Good Counsel, Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey

Joan Andrews Bell, Director, PIETA Mission, Hoboken, New Jersey

Yuri Belozorov, Director, Choose Life, Vladivostock, Russia

Fr. Frederick Bentley, OHI, Anglican Priests for Life, Edinboro, Pennsylavania

Robin Bernhoft, M.D., FACS, Chairman, National Parents Commission, Johnstown, Pennsylvania

Giuseppe Bertolini, M.D., Specialist in Anesthesia and Resuscitation, Ospidali Riunti di Roma, Rome, Italy

Cledson Ramos Bezerra, Attorney at Law , Jo?o Pessoa, Brazil

Jerrold G. Black, M.D., Family Practice Physician, Lincoln, Nebraska

Wallace L. Boever, M.S., Clinic Manager, Holy Family Medical Specialties, Lincoln, Nebraska

Massimo Bondi, M.D., L.D., Former General Surgeon, Medical Board, Sydney, Australia; Professor of Surgical Pathology Universit? degli Stud? “La Sapienza”, Rome, Italy

Michael Brear, MB, BS, DTM&H, LMCC, General Practitioner, Vancouver, Canada

William Brennan, Ph.D., Professor, School of Social Service, St. Louis University, St. Louis, Missouri

Paul R. Bruch, M.D., Past President, Connecticut Right to Life Corporation, Southbury, Connecticut

L?o Brust, Attorney at Law, Porto Alegre, Brazil

Fr. Christian Marie Charlot, Professor of Bioethics, President, World for Children, Bagnoregio, Italy

Helen Cindrich, Executive Director, People Concerned for the Unborn Child, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Celso Galli Coimbra, Attorney at Law, Porto Alegre, Brazil

Cicero Galli Coimbra, M.D., Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Federal University of Sao Paulo, S?o Paulo, Brazil

Greg Clovis, Executive Director, Human Life International-UK, London, England, UK

Kurt Clyne, M.S., PharmD., Director, Pharmacy, St. Elizabeth Regional Medical Center, Lincoln, Nebraska

Dr. A.P. Cole, FRCP, RFCPCH, Director, Lejeune Clinic, London, England, UK

Kathy Coll, Director, Pro-Life Coalition, Havertown, Pennsylvania

William F. Colliton, Jr., M.D., FACOG, Clinical Professor Emeritus of Obstetrics and Gynecology, George Washington University,

Washington, D.C.

Carlito V. Cruz, M.D., General Surgeon, St. John Hospital and Medical Center, Detroit, Michigan

Gregg Cunningham, Esq., Executive Director, The Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, Los Angeles, California

Joseph W. Cunningham, Esq., President, The Society of Blessed Gianna Beretta Molla, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Lorna L. Cvetkovitch, M.D., Obstetrician and Gynecologist, Lincoln, Nebraska

Michael Davies, President, International Una Voce Federation, London, England, UK

Dr. Michael Delany, London, England, UK

Robert Desmond, M.D., Emergency Department, Wood County Hospital, Bowling Green, Ohio

Marie Dietz, Director, Center for Pro-Life Studies, North Troy, Vermont

Dr. Bert P. Dorenbos, President, Schreeow Om Leven, Hilversum, Netherlands

John F. Downs, Director, Partners in the Cross, Mt. Jackson, Virginia

Jim Dowson, National Organizer, Precious Life Scotland, Cumbernauld, Scotland

Sr. Lucille Durocher, Founder, St. Joseph’s Workers for Life & Family, Vanier, Canada

Cheryl Eckstein, R.N., Founder and President, Compassionate Health Care Network, Surrey, Canada

David Wainwright Evans, M.D., FRCP, Fellow Commoner of Queens’ College, Cambridge, England, UK

Martyn Evans, B.A., Ph.D., Swansea, Wales, UK

Joseph C. Evers, M.D., FAAP, Pediatrician, McLean, Virginia

Timothy R. Fangman, M.D., FACC, Cardiovascular Medicine, Omaha, Nebraska

Sydney O. Fernandes, M.D., M.B.B.S., F.C.P.S., ABIM, ABFP, Internal Medicine, Oregon, Ohio

Vera Maria Vargas Ferreira, Attorney, Porto Alegre, Brazil

Timothy H. Fisher, M.D., Family Practice Physician, Lincoln, Nebraska

Jeffrey L. Fortenberry, M.S., M.A., Member, Lincoln City Council, Lincoln, Nebraska

Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Ph.D., Professor of History and Humanities, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia

Nelson Fragelli, Director, Droit de Na?tre, Paris, France

Luigi Gagliardi, M.D., Head Physician, Department of Thoracic Surgery (retired), Ospidale Forlalini di Roma;

Professor Emeritus, Universit? degli Stud? di Roma “La Sapienza”, Rome, Italy

Fr. Benedict J. Groeschel, CFR, Ed.D., Director, Office for Spiritual Development, Archdiocese of New York, Larchmont, New York

Karel F. Gunning, M.D., President, World Federation of Doctors Who Respect Human Life, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Denny Hartford, Director, Vital Signs Ministries, Omaha, Nebraska

Lucky M. Hatta, Founder and President, Pro Life Indonesia, Turanggaa Bandung, Indonesia

The Rt. Rev. Mark Haverland, Ph.D., Bishop Ordinary, Diocese of the South, Anglican Catholic Church, Athens, Georgia

Paul L. Hayes, M.D., Obstetrician and Gynecologist, Lincoln, Nebraska

David J. Hill, M.A., FRCA, Emeritus Consultant Anaesthetist, Cambridge, England, UK

Helen Hull Hitchcock, Director, Women for Faith & Family, St. Louis, Missouri

James Hitchcock, Ph.D., Professor of History, St. Louis University, St.Louis, Missouri

Benno Hofschulte, Director, Aktion SOS LEBEN, Frankfurt am Main, Germany

The Reverend Canon Eric Jarvis, M.A., Canon Emeritus, Cathedral Church of St. Peter and St. Winfred, Ripon, England, UK

Fr. David Albert Jones, O.P., M.A., Director designate, Linacre Centre for Healthcare Ethics, London, England, UK

Anthony M. Kam, M.D., FACS, Chief of Staff, Sheridan Community Hospital, Sheridan, Michigan

M.A. Klopotek, Dr. Eng. Habil., Professor, Institute of Computer Science, Akademia Polska, Siedice, Poland

Paul Lagan, President, Alliance for Life Ministries, Madison, Wisconsin

Thomas H. Lieser, M.D., MPH, FACOEM, Board Certified, Family Practice and Occupational and Environmental Medicine; Adjunct Faculty, Medical College of Ohio, Toledo, Ohio

Johann Loibner, M.D., General Practitioner, Graz, Austria

Luiz Anderson Lopes, M.D., Pediatric Department, Ecola Paulista de Medicina, Universidade Federal S?o Paulo; Professor of Pediatrics, Universidade de Santo Amoro, S?o Paulo, Brazil

Prof. Roberto de Mattei, Professor of Modern History, University of Cassino, Cassino, Italy

Maria Cristina Mattioli, Federal Labor Judge, Federal Labor Court of the 15th Circuit, Campinas, Brazil

Fr. Daniel Maurer, C.J.D., Canons Regular of Jesus the Lord, Vladivostok, Russia

Philip D. McNeely, M.D., Family Practice Physician, Lincoln, Nebraska

Walter Menz, Attorney at Law, Porto Alegre, Brazil

Judge Joseph Moylan, Omaha, Nebraska

Nerina Negrello, President, Lega Nazionale Contro la Predazione di Organi e la Morte A cuore Battente, Bergamo, Italy

Dr. Claude E. Newbury, M.B.B.Ch., D.T.MTH., D.O.H., M.F.G.P., D.P.H., D.A., D.C.H., M.Prax. Med., President, Pro-Life South Africa, Johannesburg, South Africa

Richard G. Nilges, M.D., FACS, Neurosurgeon, Valparaiso, Indiana

Dr. Peggy Norris, MD, ChB, BAO, Chairman, A.L.E.R.T.; Hon. Secretary, Doctors Who Respect Life, London, England, UK

Marquis Luigi Coda Nunziante di San Fernando, President, Famiglia Domani, Rome, Italy

Dr. Charles OfDonnell, MRCP, DA, EDIC, FFAGM, Consultant in Emergency and Intensive Care Medicine, Whipps Cross Hospital, London, England, UK

Ruth D. Oliver, M.D., FRCP(C), Psychiatry, Surrey, Canada

Tony C. Palmer, ScD, FRCVS, Veterinary Neurologist, University of Cambridge, England, UK

Larry Parsons, M.D., Family Practice Physician, Board Certified, Omaha, Nebraska

Captain (Ret.) Charles J. Pelletier, II, President, Mother and Unborn Baby Care of Northern Texas, Fort Worth, Texas

Mary Patricia Pelletier, Vice President, Raphael (God Heals) of Northern Texas, Inc., Fort Worth, Texas

Luca Poli, M.D., Neurologist Boselga de Pin?, Trento, Italy

Michael Potts, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Philosophy, Methodist College, Fayetteville, North Carolina

Walter Ramm. Director, AKTION LEBEN, e.V., Absteinach, Germany

Marlene Reid, President, Human Life Alliance, St. Paul, Minnesota

Charles E. Rice, Ll.M., J.S.D., Professor Of Law, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana

Fr. George M. Rinkowski, Toledo, Ohio

Maria Luisa Robbiati, M.D., General Medicine and Specialist in Anesthesia and Resuscitation, Rome, Italy

Gelson Luis Roberto, Clinical Psychologist, Associa??o Brasileira de Etnopsiquiatria e Psiquiatria Social, Porto Alegre, Brazil

Gilson Luis Roberto, M.D., Clinical Medicine, Medical Clinic, Porto Alegre, Brazil

Jaqui Rose, Catholic Action Life League, Cape Town, Republic of South Africa

Derek Sakowski, Seminarian, Pontifical College Josephinum, Columbus, Ohio

Rich Scanlon, Executive Director, Human Life Alliance, St. Paul, Minnesota

Joseph M. Scheidler, Executive Director, Pro-Life Action League, Chicago, Illinois

Ingolf Schmid-Tannwald, M.D., Professor of Gynecology and Obstetrics, Medical School University of Munich; President, ?rtze f?r das Leben e.V., Munich, Germany

Elida Seguin, Ph.D., Professor of Law, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Mary Senander, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Giueseppi Sermonti, Professor Emeritus of Genetics, Universities of Palermo and Perugia, Editor, Rivista di Biologia, Rome, Italy

Rogerio Passos Severo, MA, Professor of Philosophy of Law and Logic, Faculdades Ritter dos Reis, Porto Alegre, Brazil

Jerome T.Y. Shen, M.D., FAAP, Clinical Professor Emeritus of Pediatrics, St. Louis University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri

Saulo Sirena, Attorney at Law, Porto Alegre, Brazil

Fr. Robertas Gedydas Skrinskas, President, Pro Vita, Kauno, Lithuania

Dick Sobsey, Professor of Educational Psychology, University of Alberta, Alberta, Canada

Robert Sutherland, President, Right to Life Association of Thunder Bay and Area, Thunder Bay, Canada

Dr. Pravin Thevatathasan, MRC Psych., MSc., Consultant Psychiatrist, London, England, UK

Fr. Hugh S. Thwaites, S.J., Bexhill, England, UK

Adrian Treloar, MRCP, MRC Psych., Consultant and Senior Lecturer in Old Age Psychiatry, Guys, Kings, and St. Thomas Hospital, London, England, UK

Sue Turner, M.Sci., Troy, Alabama

Dr. Cristina Valea, President, Pro Vita Medica, Timasoara, Romania

Sr. Paula Vandegaer, SSS, LCWS, Founder, Scholl Institute of Bioethics, President, International Life Services, Los Angeles, California

Josephine Venn-Treloar, MRCGP, General Practioner, London, England, UK

Prof. Guido Vignelli, Director, SOS Ragazzi, Rome, Italy

Dr. Paul Vooht, Stevenage Herts, England, UK

Yoshio Watanabe, M.D., FACC, Professor Emeritus of Medicine, Fujita Health University; Consultant Cardiologist, Chiba Tokushu-kai Hospital, Funabashi, Japan

Germaine Wensley, R.N., B.S., Immediate Past President, California Nurses for Ethical Standards, Los Angeles, California

John W.S. Yun, M.D., FRCP(C), Internal Medicine and Medical Oncology, Richmond Health Science Centre, Richmond, Canada