Postmortem Transplants: A Catholic perspective

For a postmortem donation to be morally acceptable, three conditions must be met:

1) The donor must be verifiable dead,

2) Proper informed consent must have been given by the deceased donor with verification from a trustworthy source

3) The donor’s remains must be treated with the utmost respect.

Blessed Pope John Paul II, addressing the 18th International Congress of the Transplantation Society on August 29, 2000, stated that,

Vital organs which occur singly in the body can be removed only after death; that is, from the body of someone who is certainly dead … the death of a person is a single event consisting in the total disintegration of that unity and integrated whole that is the personal self … The death of a person is an event which no scientific technique or empirical method can identify directly … the ‘criteria’ for ascertaining death used by medicine today should not be understood as the technical scientific determination of that exact moment of a person’s death, but as a scientifically secure means of identifying the biological signs that a person has died.

Hence, the key issue is to determine when life has reached its end. As such, Pope John Paul II stated: “Death can mean decomposition, disintegration, a separation (cf. Salvifici Doloris, Gaudium et Spes). It occurs when the spiritual principle which ensures the unity of the individual can no longer exercise its functions in and upon the organism, whose elements left to themselves, disintegrate.”

Conclusively, Dr Paul A Byrne indicates that:

The statements of Pope Pius XII, Pope John Paul II, the Council of Vienne, the Council of the Fifth Lateran, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, combined with knowledge of biology, biochemistry, medicine, jurisprudence, and theology make clear to us that the unity of the body is present until excision of organs. At the very least, if the separation of the body and life cannot be verified, or if there is doubt about the separation of the body and life, organ excision is morally prohibited and should not be allowed.


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