I have already Commented on the question, Are those who fail to pass brain stem function tests really dead? (read blog entry Organ-donation – Are Brain Dead Really Dead?) In this entry I would like to consider another approach to the claim that those who are brain dead are really dead.
The argument accepts the biblical view that when a person is dead then the neurologic (brain), circulatory (heart), and respiratory (Lungs) systems are each dead.
In order to maintain the biblical requirement for death, the argument goes something like this. The brain stem is responsible for maintaining life, such that without brain stem function, the body will die. Since brain stem function is necessary for other organ systems to continue to function, the reason why other organ systems may continue to function is because they are being artificially supported. If the artificial support is discontinued, then these organ systems would cease to function as well. The implication is that, since these organ systems are being supported artificially, their life is really artificial, that is that they are not really living and the person is dead.read more
Do organ donation and abortion have something in common? This may seem like an odd question. But the question does arise when one considers both organ donation and abortion in light of personhood or in light of what it means to be a person.
Many Christians reject abortion from the point of conception, citing conception as the beginning of a person’s life. Some pro-abortion people accept abortion in the early stages of pregnancy claiming that the embryo/fetus in early pregnancy is not yet a person. The more extreme view is that to be a person one has to be able to think. Since a fetus is not able to express thought, some would say that a fetus is not a person and abortion is justified at any stage. A less extreme view is that to be a person one needs brain activity, but not necessarily thinking. They would say that embryos and early fetuses that have not yet developed brains and that they would, thus, not yet be considered persons, could therefore be, justly, aborted. Defining personhood in terms of brain activity, excludes the very young from the protection of persons.read more
Organ donation can seem like a positive thing. The life of a young child, a teenage, a mother, a father, a business man, a loved one can be spared. Many deaths seem to come about because of failure of one organ or another. If we can replace the failing organ, we can continue to live. Is not the Christian ethic to promote life? Of course, vital organs, those organs that are necessary for the body to live, can not be taken out of a person and that person continues to live. If a person dies, his soul leaves the body and the body is returned to the earth.1 Ultimately, given a long enough period of time, the body becomes earth or dust. If someone dies, does not the body become part of the earth, earth that can be used to sustain life? This being true, does using the organs of someone who has died not seem to be a good thing? Is there not comfort knowing that through death others can be saved? Consider a loved one severely injured in a car accident with no chance of recovery. If their organs can be used after they die, does it not make some sense out of their life and death? Giving of ourselves and giving our lives is part of what it means to be Christian. Is it not a good thing when the last thing we do is give a gift of life to a number of other people? Does this not, somehow, bear the image of Christ? Christ gave up His life that others may be saved from eternal death to newness of life? Looking at organ donation from this perspective it seems to have a Christian appeal to it.read more
Gilbert Meilaender, a professor of theology at Valparaiso University, an independent Lutheran liberal arts university, has written a thought provoking essay on organ donation, title, Second Thoughts About Body Parts. (Click on title to read the essay.)1
Gilbert does not definitely rule out organ donation from brain dead donors but his comments suggest that he struggles with the concept and gives a number of cautions about proceeding down this path. He expresses understanding about the struggle that Christians go through who are faced with a loved on who will die without an organ transplant (see p100 or the last paragraph in this summary.) On the whole, his comments seem to be weighted against taking organs form living bodies.read more