Pope: Determining Death Is Not Arbitrary

Says Respect For Life Should Be Top Priority

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VATICAN CITY, NOV. 7, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI reminded participants in an international congress on organ transplants that before vital organs can be extracted from a body, it must be certified beyond a doubt that the donor is truly dead.

Upon receiving in audience today participants in the congress «A Gift for Life. Considerations on Organ Donation,» the Pope also underlined the importance of receiving the family’s informed consent.

The congress, under way in Rome through Saturday, is sponsored by the Pontifical Academy for Life, the International Federation of Catholic Medical Associations, and the Italian National Transplant Center.

«Informed consent,» said the Pontiff, «is a precondition of freedom so that the transplant can be characterized as being a gift and not interpreted as a coercive or abusive act.»

Additionally, «vital organs can only be extracted «ex cadavere» [from a dead body], which posses it’s own dignity and should be respected.»

Benedict XVI didn’t discuss in detail the criteria for true death, but stated that the criteria should not be arbitrary, and that there should be wide consensus in the scientific community.

«Over recent years,» he said, «science has made further progress in ascertaining the death of a patient. It is good, then, that the achieved results receive the consensus of the entire scientific community in favor of looking for solutions that give everyone certainty.

«In an environment such as this, the minimum suspicion of arbitrariness is not allowed, and where total certainty has not been reached, the principle of caution should prevail.»

Referring to the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Pope added that «respect for the life of the donor should be assumed as the primary criterion, in such a way so that the extraction of the organs only take place after having ascertained the patient’s true death.»

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