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Posts Tagged ‘God’

That title is actually be a bit misleading, as it may suggest that I have all the answers for the Church’s stand on organ donation.  I actually do not.  And I cannot speak on behalf of the Church.  But I do have some thoughts and suggestions that might give my faithful brethren and readers a jumping off point for further research.  And this is important because many Catholics have no idea that there is anything possibly wrong with the current state of organ donation.

But there is.

First, let me quote some pieces from a recent editorial commentary in the Wall Street Journal.  The commentary is written by Dick Teresi, author of The Undead: Organ Harvesting, the Ice-Water Test, Beating Heart Cadavers–How Medicine Is Blurring the Line Between Life and Death.  As he says,

Becoming an organ donor seems like a win-win situation. Some 3.3 people on the transplant waiting list will have their lives extended by your gift (3.3 is the average yield of solid organs per donor). You’re a hero, and at no real cost, apparently.

But what are you giving up when you check the donor box on your license? Your organs, of course—but much more. You’re also giving up your right to informed consent. Doctors don’t have to tell you or your relatives what they will do to your body during an organ harvest operation because you’ll be dead, with no legal rights.

You might ask yourself why you might care that you or your loved one no longer have legal rights, so Mr. Teresi explains why.  You don’t get any say in the tests used to determine your “death.”  As long time readers know, the tests for brain death are sketchy, non-uniform, individualistic and subjective.  He writes:

The exam for brain death is simple. A doctor splashes ice water in your ears (to look for shivering in the eyes), pokes your eyes with a cotton swab and checks for any gag reflex, among other rudimentary tests. It takes less time than a standard eye exam. Finally, in what’s called the apnea test, the ventilator is disconnected to see if you can breathe unassisted. If not, you are brain dead.

Hmmm, by this definition of brain death, I have personally as a lifeguard brought two people back from death.  Because that is what CPR is: breathing for individuals who aren’t breathing for themselves.  Mr. Teresi points out that even though such a person is now considered by organ harvesters as brain dead, they actually have much more in common with the living than the dead.  Their organs still function, they still heal, control their internal temperatures, etc.  And that is not all.

You might also be emitting brainwaves. Most people are surprised [note: shocked and disbelieving is more accurate] to learn that many people who are declared brain dead are never actually tested for higher-brain activity. The 1968 Harvard committee recommended that doctors use electroencephalography (EEG) to make sure the patient has flat brain waves. Today’s tests concentrate on the stalk-like brain stem, in charge of basics such as breathing, sleeping and waking. The EEG would alert doctors if the cortex, the thinking part of your brain, is still active.

But various researchers decided that this test was unnecessary, so it was eliminated from the mandatory criteria in 1971. They reasoned that, if the brain stem is dead, the higher centers of the brain are also probably dead.

[emphasis mine]

My thought here is that the harvesting team does not actually want to know if the donor is dead yet.  Nearly dead is close enough for them.

John Shea, M.D. has written for Catholic Insight:

Since 1968, vital organs, necessary for life, have been removed from patients for transplantation. Since then, this has been morally justified by the claim that the donor is “brain dead” or has suffered “cardiac death.” Brain death is defined as complete and irreversible loss of all brain function and cardiac death is declared two to five minutes after cessation of the heartbeat.

The moral problem is that the criteria used to declare that brain death or cardiac death has occurred are arbitrary, and open to continuing serious world-wide debate. They do not necessarily provide moral certainty that real death has occurred, and that such organ retrieval does not actually cause the death of the donor.

Many medical ethicists are concerned with this lack of certainty of an actual death in brain death cases.  Are you comfortable placing the end of your life decision in the hands of these medical professionals?  Is there reason to doubt their commitment to your best interests?  Actually, yes, yes there is.

Organ transplantation—from procurement of organs to transplant to the first year of postoperative care—is a $20 billion per year business. Recipients of single-organ transplants—heart, intestine, kidney, liver, single and double lung and pancreas—are charged an average $470,000, ranging from $288,000 for a kidney transplant to $1.2 million for an intestine transplant, according to consulting firm Milliman. Neither donors nor their families can be paid for organs.

Mr. Teresi does not mention the big gifts which the donor hospital receives in all this exchanging of organs.  But they do.  Providing organs is a very lucrative business for hospitals.

In his WSJ article, Mr. Teresi informs us that the current criteria on brain death were set by a Harvard Medical School committee in 1968.  In 1981, all 50 states adopted the Harvard brain death as a definition of death.  It is enlightening to read a bit from that important Harvard commission (quoting from).

Secular attempts to define death in this regard have not been all that successful.  Indeed, rather than use any sort of consistent biological or philosophical criteria, the concerns which seem to be driving definitions of death in the public sphere today are their relative expediency for procuring successful organ donation.  This trend started decades ago when the now famous Harvard brain death commission moved us toward a neurological (rather than cardio-pulmonary) criteria:

Our primary purpose is to define irreversible coma as a new criterion for death. There are two reasons why there is a need for a definition: (1) Improvements in resuscitative and supportive measures have led to increased efforts to save those who are desperately injured. Sometimes these efforts have only a partial success so that the result is an individual whose heart continues to beat but whose brain is irreversibly damaged. The burden is great on patients who suffer permanent loss of intellect, on their families, on the hospitals, and on those in need of hospital beds already occupied by these comatose patients. (2) Obsolete criteria for the definition of death can lead to controversy in obtaining organs for transplantation.

As Peter Singer, an atheist philosopher at Princeton who rejects brain death as a criterion for bodily death, notes this as a remarkable moment of honesty in bioethics:

[T]he Harvard committee does not even attempt to argue that there is a need for a new definition of death because hospitals have a lot of patients in their wards who are really dead, but are being kept attached to respirators because the law does not recognize them as dead.  Instead, with unusual frankness, the committee said that a new definition was needed because irreversibly comatose patients were a great burden, not only on themselves (why to be in an irreversible coma is a burden on the patient, the committee did not say), but also on their families, hospitals, and patients waiting for beds.           source

Catholic Moral Theology article drily states that “[t]oday we are still dealing with the incoherence of criteria for death driven by the need for organs.”  Indeed.

So where does this leave faithful Catholics, trying to live our pro-life mandate?  Pope Benedict has said

“The main criterion,” the Pope said, must be “respect for the life of the donor so that the removal of organs is allowed only in the presence of his actual death.”

The Pope is likely to have been referring to the L’Osservatore Romano article when he told the Transplant Conference, “Science, in recent years has made further progress in the determination of the death of a patient.” In the question of determination of death, the Pope cautioned, “there must not be the slightest suspicion of arbitrariness. Where certainty cannot be achieved, the principle of precaution must prevail.”

In the 1995 Encyclical Evangelium vitae (Gospel of Life), Pope John Paul commended organ donation as an unselfish gift of life, but he cautioned that the question of death must be answered by “moral certitude” in order for the gift to be morally legitimate.  The Pope said that organs may only be removed after death – “that is, from the body of someone who is certainly dead.”

“Certainly dead.”  The problem is that the medical profession which has a well-earned attitude for arrogance and expedience, is not at all interested in being certain of death.  Not all doctors, of course, but enough with plenty of individual latitude in declaring death (and then making it so) to make people of faith and intellect think twice.  And we should think twice.  I never gave this any thought, was never aware of the controversies in organ donation until this very topic affected me personally.  Until it took away someone I loved.  Since then, I have been educating myself and trying to educate others.  I’ve been collecting and sharing stories of supposedly “miraculous recoveries” by medically declared dead patients.  I have a half dozen such stories still to publish.

The National Catholic Bioethics Center states that a properly diagnosed neurological death can only be determined following an evaluation of the entire brain, including the cerebrum, cerebellum, and brain stem in order to determine the complete cessation of all organized neurological activity. Of course, it also calls me “irresponsible” but it goes on to make my point, which is “that the neurological criteria must be rigorously and consistently applied and a judgment made of total brain death before a person is declared dead” — but that unfortunately is just not happening with consistency and assurance.

Therefore, I am going to heed and recommend Mr. Teresi’s advice.  He ends his WSJ commentary by suggesting that prospective donors not sign away their rights, and thereby retain bargaining power.  “If you leave instructions with your next of kin, they can perhaps negotiate a better deal. Instead of just the usual icewater-in-the-ears, why not ask for a blood-flow study to make sure your cortex is truly out of commission?”

To that extent, I encourage my readers to avoid signing donor authorizations that ipso facto sign away legal rights for you and your loved ones.  Require the full tests suggested by the NCBC and do not allow a determination of death if the the cerebrum and cerebellum are not also evaluated.  Determinations by brain stem activity alone are inadequate.

A living will specifying the criteria you wish used to determine your death, the manner and way in which your body both before death and after must be treated and specifying clearly that you are a Catholic who wishes to be treated in accordance with the teachings of the Church are all recommended.  (There used to be a place for Catholics to purchase and download these materials, called Legal Lifeguard but something seems wrong with the site.)

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On June 7th, Muslims in Nigeria destroyed the Catholic Cathedral of St. Patrick in the northern capital city of Maiduguri.  Recently, as many as 16 Nigerians have died in the most recent daily attacks.  Furthermore, estimates are that nearly 500 people have been killed since the April election of that countries first Christian president.  There have been other churches bombed, and an estimated 40,000 people have fled from the northern, mostly Muslim north.  The Islamic group claiming responsibility have even killed an Islamic leader who opposed the ongoing attacks.

I know I repeat myself, but we need to educate ourselves.  Christians are the most persecuted group on earth.  That’s not just a saying, it is a statistic and a fact.  According to the Zenit article below, a Christian is killed every five minutes in the world, not accidentally, but solely because he or she is a Christian.  And those numbers are in large part children.  This ongoing persecution is happening in Egypt, Pakistan, Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria…and on and on.  With the exception of Communist countries China and North Korea, the rest of the top 10 most dangerous countries for Christians are Muslim.   

The sociologist in the article below comes very close to speaking the plain truth at a conference on Christian-Jewish-Muslim interfaith dialogue, he tells the participants that unless something is done about the approximately 100,000 Christians killed every year, “interfaith dialogue” is meaningless.  To that I say, “Amen.”   

ROME, JUNE 3, 2011 (Zenit.org).- A sociologist representing a European security organization says that the number of Christians killed each year for their faith is so high that it calculates to one martyr’s life being taken every five minutes.

Massimo Introvigne of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) reported this data at a conference on Christian-Jewish-Muslim interfaith dialogue, which concluded today in Hungary. The conference was sponsored by the Hungarian presidency of the Council of the European Union, and included a variety of high-level representatives from the three monotheistic religions, as well as political and social leaders.

Introvigne reported that Christians killed every year for their faith number 105,000, and that number includes only those put to death simply because they are Christians. It does not count the victims of civil or international wars.

If these numbers are not cried out to the world, if this slaughter is not stopped, if it is not acknowledged that the persecution of Christians is the first worldwide emergency in the matter of violence and religious discrimination, the dialogue between religions will only produce beautiful conferences but no concrete results,” he stated.

Egyptian diplomat Aly Mahmoud said that in his country laws have been passed that will protect Christian minorities, for example, prosecuting those who give speeches that incite hatred and banning hostile crowds outside churches.

“However, the danger is that many Christian communities in the Middle East will die from emigration, because all Christians, feeling threatened, will flee,” he said.

The diplomat suggested Europe prepare for “a new wave of emigration, this time from Christians fleeing the persecutions.”

For his part, Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, chairman for the Russian Orthodox patriarchate’s Department of External Church Relations, reminded that “at least 1 million” Christian victims of persecutions are children.

Emphasis mine.

ZENIT – Sociologist: Every 5 Minutes a Christian Is Martyred.

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An evangelical worship leader visits his brother, the seminarian and writes of what he found at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary.  Read it here:  A Visit to Heaven.

Interestingly, Mount St. Mary’s undergraduate college was recently the topic of on of Msg. Pope‘s articles in the ADW blog, which I commented on when it was posted.

Just a reminder to pray for vocations, for our priests, seminarians and religious.  Also, pray for Christian unity.

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Long-time readers may remember that I like kneeling

From Rome Reports, the awesome Pope Benedict on why we kneel.

During the general audience, Benedict XVI  explained how praying on one’s knees isn’t a symbol of slavery or poverty, but a way to recognize one’s limits and the need for God.

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It is estimated that the United Nations mission in the Congo is the largest and most expensive peacekeeping mission in the world.  The United Nations has 20,000 troops there.  20,000.  The UN has been on the ground there providing peacekeepers since 1999.  And what have all the billions of dollars, military manhours and brute strength achieved in Congo?

Peace?

Prosperity?

Stability?

Er…no.  What it accomplished is a new title.  Congo is now — according to the UN — “the rape capital of the world.”  Yes, that’s right.  In the Congo, where we have a gigantic UN peacekeeping force, 48 women are raped EVERY HOUR.  That’s some peacekeeping going on right there.  Way to protect the women and children, United Nations!

I guess it’s the best we can expect from our earthly princes over at our savior body, the United Nations.  At least the news reports of rapes and pedophilia by the UN’s very own troops it has had in the Congo for last decades have slacked off.  Or is it that the major media just isn’t reporting on these atrocities?  After all, the Food-for-Oil and rape scandals of the past barely made page 3 of the New York Times.  And although it was National Public Radio that reported this shocking news of the rape statistics in Congo, NPR did not even mention the presence of UN forces, nor their complicity in the ongoing rape of that country’s women and children. Not one mention of the multitude of accusations there. 

So you may well ask, because no one has really told you, what atrocities?  Well, to date UN troops have been accused of widespread rape, child sexual abuse, child trafficking, and pornography, in some cases systemic,  in Congo, Haiti, Sierra Leone, Sudan….basically everywhere there are UN troops stationed, there are reports of raping and sexual abuse of children.  And there are over 200,000 UN troops currently stationed around the world

Here’s what the UN’s confidential report from 2004, obtained by the Washington Post, said:

U.N. peacekeepers threatened U.N. investigators investigating allegations of sexual misconduct in Congo and sought to bribe witnesses to change incriminating testimony, a confidential U.N. draft report says.

The 34-page report, which was obtained by The Washington Post, accuses U.N. peacekeepers from Morocco, Pakistan and Nepal of seeking to obstruct U.N. efforts to investigate a sexual abuse scandal that has damaged the United Nations’ standing in Congo.

The report documents 68 cases of alleged rape, prostitution and pedophilia by U.N. peacekeepers from Pakistan, Uruguay, Morocco, Tunisia, South Africa and Nepal. U.N. officials say they have uncovered more than 150 allegations of sexual misconduct throughout the country as part of a widening investigation into sexual abuse by U.N. personnel that has plagued the United Nations’ largest peacekeeping mission, U.N. officials said.

Sexual exploitation and abuse, particularly prostitution of minors, is widespread and long-standing,” says a draft of the internal July report, which has not previously been made public. “Moreover, all of the major contingents appear to be implicated.”  (emphasis mine)

Apparently, troops from countries like Morocco, Pakistan, Tunisia, Sri Lanka and Nepal (who were accused of raping a 10 year old girl inside a United Nations armored vehicle) did not receive the memo about the United Nations being the savior of the world, yada yada.  About how the new world order will lift up all mankind because mankind will save itself via well, the new world order.  And these troops are not remembering to act like saviors of mankind.  Apparently, they still act like conquerers, barbarians and such. 

It was with disappointment that the UN spokesperson dealt with reports surfacing in Haiti as far back as 2006.  They thought things were going so well there!  As the Washington Times writes,

Reports that peacekeepers raped teenage girls have surfaced in Haiti, where a United Nations mission so far had avoided the sexual abuse scandals that have sullied the international organization’s reputation in other parts of the world.

Has it truly “sullied” the UN’s reputation?  Has anyone truly questioned why this enormous body of mostly barbarian third world countries is given a blank check to send poorly disciplined, undereducated, racist troops into helpless, struggling countries with little or no oversight?

According to Wikipedia, the bulk of troops come from poor third world (sorry, I mean “developing”) countries because “peacekeeping” brings in alot of money for them.  Less that 4.5% of UN troops are from the EU and less than 1% from the US.  Here is the breakdown, according to Wikipedia:

Despite the large number of contributors, the greatest burden continues to be borne by a core group of developing countries, who often profit financially from their participation in such missions.[citation needed] The 10 main troop-contributing countries to UN peacekeeping operations as of September 2010 were Bangladesh (10,736), Pakistan (10,691), India (8,935), Nigeria (5,709), Egypt (5,458), Nepal (5,044), Jordan (3,826), Ghana (3,647), Rwanda (3,635), Uruguay (2,489).

It doesn’t take a world geography major to see that these countries are known by and large for their despotic rulers and human rights abuses.

The UN has been in Congo since 1999.  The conflict is still ongoing there.   As far back as 2004, the UN’s own confidential report stated that sexual exploitation by U.N. personnel in Congo “appears to be significant, wide spread and ongoing.”  Citation.  Eight years later, we have a hell on earth for woman and children, a place where 1,152 women are raped EVERY DAY in what is generally thought to be an under-reported crime. 

So who is going to save these people, if the United Nations can’t do it?  The psalmist knows.

Hallelujah!  
Praise the LORD, my soul; I shall praise the LORD all my life, sing praise to my God while I live.
I Put no trust in princes, in mere mortals powerless to save.  
When they breathe their last, they return to the earth; that day all their planning comes to nothing.
Happy those whose help is Jacob’s God, whose hope is in the LORD, their God,  
The maker of heaven and earth, the seas and all that is in them, Who keeps faith forever, secures justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets prisoners free;  
the LORD gives sight to the blind. The LORD raises up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous.
The LORD protects the stranger, sustains the orphan and the widow, but thwarts the way of the wicked.
The LORD shall reign forever, your God, Zion, through all generations!
Hallelujah!

Pray to the Lord our God for the safety and peace of the peoples of the earth.  Pray for the weak and helpless, the women and the children who are most vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

Lord, hear our prayer.

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Beautiful video with Fr. Jeremy Driscoll, O.S.B. reflecting on the solemnity of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, with the Kyrie Eleison chanted in the background.

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I have never been able to get through this song without crying.  This awesome rendition by Carrie Underwood and Vince Gill is no exception.  Watch especially the reaction of the members of this audience, who are mostly from the Country music world, a part of the entertainment world where Christians are still welcomed and appreciated.  Seeing these big names being moved by this hymn is touching.  So be prepared to thrill, weep and rejoice!

How Great Thou Art 

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