I’m thinking it was the March 18th episode wherein Fr. Tad Pacholczyk was dismissive of ideas contrary to brain-death as constitutive of death. I.e. a caller mentioned another theologian’s critique of organ harvesting as decisively killing the person, and Fr. Pacholczyk basically waved it aside without much discussion, just restating that when the brain died the person was dead. This thread is in response to that question, together with this news.com.au article, “Terminally ill man set to be first to undergo the world’s first full head transplant”.
I searched the forums and found another user raising the same question, with whom I’m inclined to agree, from what Catholic Answers has presented, together with my reading of Saint Thomas Aquinas or Frank Sheed (or both). Basically, if the spirit gives life to the body, then the spirit must also be responsible for keeping every part of the body alive, right? Looking at the cellular level, it appears we die piecemeal, that the soul loses its influence over the body piecemeal rather than all at once. There’s also the question of cancer, how cancerous tissue grows. It would seem that either God or the person’s spirit is responsible for causing cancer to grow, even contrary to the person’s will! This seems absurd, but perhaps asking three questions in one thread is too much.
My questions here are: How can we understand a successful head transplant? Doesn’t the theology of the body say that’s the human person is one unity of body and spirit? In other words, that you are your body just as much as you are your spirit? What then does that imply about a successful head transplant operation? Must the church conclude that it is a new person, even if they claim to have the memories from the previous body? Must the church conclude that the brain is the seat of the soul, and that although the spirit gives life to the body, it does so while residing in the brain? But in what sense can we properly say that the spirit resides in the brain, when the spirit is immaterial? I thought that one could not claim that spirits occupy any volume of matter because they are immaterial! (I think this was from Frank Sheed, from an article Catholic Answers hosted on their old site.) Going a step further, what if one transplants one’s brain into a body of the opposite sex? How does the theology of the body account for the human’s life after this operation, should it be successful?
So does the spirit give life to the body piecemeal, so that harvesting organs even after brain death essentially means ripping the organ away from the influence of the spirit that is slowly departing? (Is this moral?) Does one’s spirit give life to cancer within one’s own body, even against one’s will? Is the spirit properly seated in the brain, such that one could be transported into a donor’s body via head transplant? Would the procedure be moral? Would it be immoral if the donor’s body was the opposite sex?