Current definition of death challenged | Xavier Symons | 2 Sep 2017
VIP Bird2.jpg
By Brian Hall - Own work, Public Domain, Link

A new article in the Journal of Medical Ethics challenges conventional accounts of human death, and calls for a “new consensus” on the ethics of vital organ transplantation.

Bioethicists Michael Nair-Collins, of Florida State University College, and Frank Miller, of Weill Cornell Medical College, assert that patients who are brain dead may nevertheless be said to have retained the integrated functioning characteristic of human life. This is the case even when the patient is supposedly “dependent” on a ventilator.

The authors observe that that mechanical interventions (such as a ventilator) do not in and of themselves allow for the functioning of the lungs and heart -- other natural bodily operations play and equally important causal role…

The corollary to this is that the ethical justification for organ procurement from brain dead patients is undercut…

The authors suggest that “a new consensus” must be reached on the ethics of vital organ transplantation -- “one which is not premised on demonstrably false claims about the vital status of biologically living patients”. Read more

Asking the right questions

Are your kidneys available to me? - Fifth in a series

Are your kidneys available to me – or to the pastor or friend in their 60s – or to a child on dialysis, like the little boy in the picture?

If you have signed your driver’s license then you can say, “Yes.” But would you, if you are a healthy adult, donate a kidney to help a fellow human live longer?

And what if you were asked to give an opinion, to help another person make a decision? It’s best to know in advance what you would answer.

Up to this post, we have reviewed position statements by churches on organ donation, noting or providing links to web pages that show:

  • All religions and Christian churches generally are in favor of organ donation
  • Christian church statements do not differentiate between the living and dead donor
  • Many churches see organ donation as a matter of individual conscience
  • There are altruistic living donors of kidneys and many kidney sellers, mostly found among the poor and ignorant in the world.

We have also noted that church position statements should distinguish between living and presumably dead donors. I realize that using the word “presumably” adds another layer to work through, but Christians need to understand that the current definition of death is debatable, and most Bible-believing Christians would not accept it. We believe that death occurs when people breathe their last. However, once that occurs, organs cannot be used for transplantation. This is a topic for a different blog series.

Our country may be moving toward a program of payment for organs from live donors, requiring a change in current law.

Would you expect your church to take a stand for or against this? Would you sell or buy a kidney? This is a new dilemma from whether you would donate one.

How would you advise your church, if you were on a committee to write a position statement?

Here are some topics to look at, to get the facts and insights needed for a personal viewpoint:

  • How do kidneys from around the world find their way to the operating tables of the USA? Would this practice end if we have a paid donor program here? Would the Donor Bill of Rights help?
  • How would changing our laws to permit payment for human organs affect our society?
  • Would payment for organs be supported or opposed in Christian doctrine?
  • What types of questions in the Christian life are bonafide matters for individual conscience?

These questions are different from the ones asked by the health authorities, who want to know:

  • How many kidney donors are needed to supply the current demand and what is the demand curve?
  • What are current and projected costs for dialysis, and who pays?
  • How can we get more donors?

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Angel fish
Public Domain, Link

...and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind ... the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind ...the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good. -Genesis 1


A SistersSite eBook

Flesh and Bone and The Protestant Conscience is an e-book on It is 99¢ and in the Amazon lending library as well. It is also available here in PDF format. The book description follows.

Would you let your conscience be your guide?

Does God care if the skin and bone of the dead are passed along to the living for medical uses? Is organ donation OK with God? Should you sign a Living Will?

Did you know that dead organ donors are often anesthetized before their organs are removed? Do you know the current definition of death? The conscience cannot function without facts.

As we ponder the ethics of in vitro fertilization, stem cell research and man-made chimeras, our thoughts trail off. How then should we live? (Ez 33:10)

How should a Christian think about euthanasia by starvation when doctors and the state attorney general all agree it is time to withhold feeding from a brain injured patient? Some things are family matters, but someday it may be our family.

Here is a small book to help you think about whether you want to sign your driver's license, donate a kidney, cremate your loved one, and many other practical questions that may arise in the course of your healthcare decisions or watch over others.

It offers a special focus on the doctrine of the Resurrection that is related to such decisions. Sunday School classes and Bible Study groups could use this book to facilitate discussion about the issues covered.