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Respect For Human Life

Life, Death, and Medical Meaning

The Ethics of Organ Donation

According to Penn Medicine, the USA has almost 170 million registered organ donors, but what does organ donation fully entail for both donor and recipient?

 

The authors behind Respect for Human Life are dedicated to the informed consent of all registered organ donors, those considering donating their organs, their families, and the recipients of transplanted organs. 

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The Facts

Organs, unlike tissues, can only be harvested from a living donor.

"When is somebody dead?"

Organs are complex collections of tissues that work together as a unit to perform a particular function. The heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys are examples of organs. Organs are dependent on a continuous supply of oxygen and nutrition from the circulatory system. Take away their blood flow, and they very rapidly become non-viable and begin to decompose, making them unsuitable for transplantation.

The medical definition of “tissue” is a group or layer of similar specialized cells that together perform a specialized function. Examples would include skin, bone, cornea, and adipose (fat). They decompose much more slowly in the absence of blood flow and may be harvested from a biologically dead donor.

This discussion brings up the question:  when is somebody dead? Historically, elapsed time without breathing or a heartbeat marked medical and legal death until 1968. In that year, doctors at Harvard medical school proposed “redefining” irreversible coma as death. They did this for several reasons, one of which was to increase the supply of organs for donation by simply calling people in an irreversible coma “dead”. People in irreversible coma have beating hearts and breathing lungs (sometimes on a ventilator), so their organs are kept in good shape for harvesting.

 "We maintain that people in an irreversible coma are spiritually still present in their physical bodies"

Most people recognize that human beings possess an immaterial essence, a “soul” or “spirit”, in addition to their physical bodies. The definition of death also includes an understanding that the person’s immaterial part has somehow been separated from their physical body and has departed. The historical definition of death allowed for this, but the revised definition does not. We maintain that people in an irreversible coma are spiritually still present in their physical bodies, and that harvesting their organs is an act of murder against these vulnerable people. Even more horrifying is that often these procedures are performed without the benefit of anesthesia, so that these people may be awake and aware during the harvest surgery, but unable to move due to the use of paralyzing drugs.

Our goal is to raise awareness of the deceptive language that is often used in discussing organ harvesting and transplantation, so that people can make intelligent and informed decisions for themselves and their loved ones on this important issue.

Types of Organ Donation

Which are ethical? Click on the headings below to learn more .

Digital Book

Newest Book Release

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The Brain Death Fallacy

Dr. Heidi Klessig

The Back Cover: 

In 1968, a committee at Harvard Medical School redefined comatose people on a ventilator as dead. This redefinition of death was introduced in 1981 as a model law referred to as the Uniform Determination of Death Act (UDDA). Now, “brain death” has become codified as a law that defines death in the United States. However, is brain death death?

 

Dr. Heidi Klessig traces the history of the diagnosis from its beginnings to the passage of the UDDA and more recent attempts to loosen the law further. For the most part, the public is unaware of this ongoing debate, but it impacts them directly after a loved one has a head injury and requires a ventilator. This book is built on the clinical work and academic research of medical doctors, philosophers, and scholars who do not accept the UDDA definition of brain death as death and are experts in this field of study.

Our Authors

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Christopher W. Bogosh RN-BC

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Heidi T. Klessig MD

How Do I Get Off the Donor List?

Sadly, this may not be enough.

First, go to your local Department of Motor Vehicles and remove your consent to donate from your driver’s license. Remove any consent to donate from your healthcare power of attorney and living will.

 

The 2006 update to the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act (UAGA)  now mandates that individuals who refuse to donate must explicitly state so. According to the Organ Donation Alliance:

"If family is not 'reasonably available', that is to say, able to be contacted by an organ procurement organization without undue effort and willing and capable to act in a timely manner consistent with existing medical criteria necessary for making an anatomical gift, and there is no documented evidence of the decedent's choice not to donate; the administrator of the hospital 'shall make an anatomical gift of the decedent's body or part.'" (UAGA C.26.6-85)

 The halovoice.org website has a Downloadable Wallet Card that you may use to legally protect yourself.

In addition, we recommend you alert your physician to your wishes and have your refusal to be an organ donor recorded in your electronic medical record.

 

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