What is the Church’s teaching on brain dead and the harvesting of organs?
The Church teaches that brain death is an acceptable criterion for death. No one is obligated to provide medical care once brain death has been established, and organ donation procedures may be begun.
Cardinal Fiorenzo Angelini, President of the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance: Charter For Health Care Workers
- With regard to this determination, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences has made an authoritative contribution. First with regard to the biomedical definition of death: “a person is dead when he has irreversibly lost all ability to integrate and coordinate the physical and mental functions of the body.”
Second, with regard to the precise moment of death: “death comes when: a) the spontaneous functions of the heart and breathing have definitively ceased, or b) the irreversible arrest of all brain activity.” In reality “brain death is the true criterion of death, although the definitive arrest of cardio–respiratory activity very quickly leads to brain death.”
Here it can be said that the criterion adopted in more recent times for ascertaining the fact of death, namely the *complete *and *irreversible *cessation of all brain activity, if rigorously applied, does not seem to conflict with the essential elements of a sound anthropology. Therefore a health-worker professionally responsible for ascertaining death can use these criteria in each individual case as the basis for arriving at that degree of assurance in ethical judgement which moral teaching describes as “moral certainty”. This moral certainty is considered the necessary and sufficient basis for an ethically correct course of action. Only where such certainty exists, and where informed consent has already been given by the donor or the donor’s legitimate representatives, is it morally right to initiate the technical procedures required for the removal of organs for transplant.
For further reading:
CNA’s Dr. Haas discusses neurological criteria for determining death
CUF’s Science, Religion, and Brain Death