Action Alert!

Thinking again about organ donation

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Jan 21, 2013

When you renew your driver’s license, you’ll probably be encouraged to check off a box to enroll as an organ donor. (At least you’ll be asked; in some places the government would make the decision for you, and you’d be enrolled as an organ donor without waiting for your consent.)

The willingness to donate a vital organ after death, so that someone else might live, is surely a praiseworthy thing. Indeed Pope Benedict (who once waved his own donor card at visitors) and Blessed John Paul II have both explicitly praised it.

Still it goes without saying, doesn’t it, that vital unpaired organs should be donated only after death. If the donor is still alive when the organ is removed, then the removal will be the cause of his death. Even if the donor is already dying, and even if the transplant will save a life, there’s still an insurmountable moral problem there. It’s never licit intentionally to cause the death of an innocent human being, regardless of the good that may be achieved. The ends don’t justify that means.

As a practical matter, vital organs are invariably transplanted from donors who have been declared “brain dead.” So it’s vitally important to know whether “brain death” can be confidently accepted as true death: the final end of a human life.

For years Dr. Paul Byrne, a past president of the Catholic Medical Association, has been making the argument that “brain death” is not real death—that is, the patients who have been pronounced “brain dead” are still alive. In this new column he summarizes the argument against accepting “brain death” as the end of human life. It is, unfortunately, also an argument against most organ transplants, and therefore an argument against volunteering too quickly to be an organ donor.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Fr_TW - Jun. 25, 2018 12:59 PM ET USA

    Thank you Dr. Mirus for telling the truth on this issue.. You are one of the few Catholic conservatives to do so, my hat is off to you sir!

  • Posted by: steve.grist2587 - Jun. 25, 2018 7:02 AM ET USA

    While traveling to New England regularly for 35 years, I have NEVER heard a prolife sermon or prayers for the unborn during Mass. So much for your claim that Bishops "have never been unclear about their condemnation of abortion" Silence is not clarity. Yet yesterday, the priest read the Bishop's statement on the immorality of separating children from parents at the border. Such a statement AFTER the policy was "discarded" creates the appearance that the Bishop is carrying water for Democrats.

  • Posted by: Jefesabella1011 - Jun. 22, 2018 11:07 PM ET USA

    Dr. Mirus, I’m not sure referring to people as morally stupid who believe immigrants breaking the nation’s laws by entering under false pretense or without legal permission is the best approach. Although some of the many thousands who illegally come claiming asylum may have legitimate cases, let’s not pretend that the majority don’t come knowing full well that bringing children with them (who’s to say they’re even these peoples children in all cases?) will allow them a free pass after 20 days.

  • Posted by: james-w-anderson8230 - Jun. 22, 2018 10:41 PM ET USA

    At the risk of being singled out as ignorant consider the following: 1- In abortion the child is dead, he gets no second chance. 2- Child separation does not murder anyone. 3- Child separation is a minor thing for a 16 y/o, while it is traumatic, but not lethal, for a 1 y/o. The bishops are consistently against abortion, but mostly refuse to call out promoters of abortion.

  • Posted by: Jeff Mirus - Jun. 22, 2018 6:12 PM ET USA

    wsw33410: I'm sorry you're unhappy. But I hope you are not implying that either you or those you cite have argued that (a) It is OK to support taking children away from their parents to make a political point; or (b) It is OK to ridicule the bishops' condemnation of this practice because some bishops did not do what you wanted them to do on some other issue.

  • Posted by: wsw33410 - Jun. 22, 2018 9:04 AM ET USA

    Sorry to say but you must have taken that bait casted by the liberals. Please listen to a discussion of the "papal posse" last night (Arroyo's World Over on EWTN) or spend a few minutes listening to M. Voris at --- they do good job explaining moral grounds of the Catholic teaching. I am not happy about your message to us.

  • Posted by: garedawg - Jan. 21, 2013 1:22 PM ET USA

    This article raises some very good points. Here's a possible dilemma. What if one of my children had a heart condition that would result in death without a transplant? Would I refuse him a heart transplant? Perhaps I would have to do so. I hope that the Church will help clarify some of these issues.