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Federal grant for organ extraction from ‘dead’ emergency room patients

Catholic World News - March 19, 2010

Sliding further down the slippery slope begun by the 1968 introduction of the criterion of “brain death,” the US Department of Health and Human Services has awarded $321,000 to two Pittsburgh hospitals to extract organs from emergency room patients who are organ donors but have not yet been declared brain dead.

“Imagine you have a 20-year-old inner-city kid who gets shot. Twenty minutes later, a family member comes in and says, ‘What happened?’ They're told, ‘We tried to save him but couldn't, and he had an organ donor card so we took an organ,’” says bioethicist Arthur Caplan, a proponent of embryonic stem cell research. “You can imagine they're going to think, ‘Did you really do everything you could to save him?’”

“When you do this stuff in such close proximity to treating the patient, the people in the emergency room will quickly start to think, ‘This is a potential organ donor,’ even when they are treating the patient," adds ethicist Michael A. Grodin. “People are going to wonder, if they are being treated in the ER, ‘Are the transplant people going to swoop down to get my organs?’”

The Washington Post reports that the practice is not novel.

In 2008, the Children's Hospital in Colorado sparked intense debate with a federally funded DCD pilot project that involved taking hearts from babies 75 seconds after they were removed from life support. After an intensive review, the hospital restarted the program about two months ago but required that surgeons wait two minutes.

The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “the transplant of organs is morally acceptable with the consent of the donor and without excessive risks to him or her. Before allowing the noble act of organ donation after death, one must verify that the donor is truly dead” (no. 476).

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