Organ Transplants Require "Moral Certainty" of Clinical Death, Says Pope

Addresses Question in Message to Academy of Sciences

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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 3, 2005 ( The extraction of organs from deceased persons for transplants to patients requires the “moral certainty” of their clinical death, insists John Paul II in a recent message.

The Pope addressed a delicate question — How can a person’s death be established with certainty? — in a message to the participants in a study group of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on “the signs of death.”

According to “Christian anthropology, it is well known that the moment of death for each person consists in the definitive loss of the constitutive unity of body and spirit,” the Holy Father wrote.

“Each human being, in fact, is alive precisely insofar as he or she is ‘corpore et anima unus’ (“Gaudium et Spes,” 14), and he or she remains so for as long as this substantial unity-in-totality subsists,” the text added.

Thus, “the death of the person, understood in this primary sense, is an event which no scientific technique or empirical method can identify directly,” the Pope continued.

From the clinical point of view, “the only correct way — and also the only possible way — to address the problem of ascertaining the death of a human being is by devoting attention and research to the individuation of adequate ‘signs of death,’ known through their physical manifestation in the individual subject,” he explained.

Quoting an address delivered by Pope Pius XII in 1957, John Paul II responded to his question by affirming that “it is for the doctor to give a clear and precise definition of ‘death’ and of the ‘moment of death’ of a patient who lapses into a state of unconsciousness.”

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