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  • Trusting in God’s mercy

    Since The Catholic Transcript is published only monthly, this edition looks forward to Easter...

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Milestones

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  • Fairfield University alum makes $10 million gift to his alma mater

    John C. Meditz FAIRFIELD – A Fairfield University alumnus and trustee, John C. Meditz, ’70, of...

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  • Bee spells victory for students

    Cameron Murray, fourth-grade state champion of the annual spelling bee sponsored by the...

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Dr. Haas responds:

Dr. Paul Byrne, a valiant pro-life physician, opposes current Catholic teaching on the moral legitimacy of determining death using cardiopulmonary or neurological criteria. He objects specifically to the use of neurological criteria for determining death prior to the extraction of vital organs for transplantation. Dr. Byrne insists that a body with a brain that is dead but with a heart which is kept beating artificially is a live person. However, this is the very question being debated. Are we dealing with a corpse or a living person?

Traditionally, persons were declared dead by a physician when they stopped breathing and their heart stopped beating. When blood and oxygen no longer reached the brain, then that organ would die along with the other organs in the body, and the death of the person was certain. But now bodies can be placed on mechanical support so that oxygenated blood is artificially forced through the bodies keeping certain organs alive even though the brain is dead.

The laws in every one of our 50 states accept that death can be determined using either cardio-pulmonary or neurological signs. The American Academy of Neurology has accepted the legitimacy of neurological criteria for determining death and issued updated tests in 2010. The neurological signs can be more difficult to determine than the ceasing of breathing and a heartbeat, but they are a more certain sign that death has occurred. If tests determine that there is no blood flow and no electrical activity in the brain, and if certain tests on the body also indicate no brain activity, then the person can be declared dead.

Dr. Byrne rejects the legitimacy of these tests and maintains that if the brain is dead and the heart is kept beating with mechanical support, the person is alive. So Dr. Byrne then applies every papal statement against killing the innocent to the removal of organs from people who have been declared dead using these neurological signs. Yet this is an unwarranted application of papal teaching since Blessed John Paul II himself accepted the legitimacy of neurological criteria for determining death. Therefore, when the Pope denounced the killing of the innocent, he was not talking about organ transplantation from those who had been declared dead using neurological criteria because he did not consider the donors to be alive! In his encyclical The Gospel of Life, John Paul II even encouraged organ donation.

There is one steadfast rule which holds in both Catholic and secular medical fields, and it is the "dead donor rule" – organs cannot be taken from a donor until there is moral certitude that the donor is dead. This moral certitude can be established using either cardio-pulmonary or neurological criteria, according to the Church and contemporary medicine.

Dr. Byrne points out that a number of criteria for brain death have been developed since the so-called Harvard criteria of 1968. This, however, is a good thing since the criteria have been ever more rigorously formulated to determine that the donor is indeed dead.

Where can a Catholic turn to find guidance as to whether it is morally legitimate to donate an organ after "brain death" or to receive an organ from someone declared dead using neurological criteria? Catholics of course receive moral guidance from the Magisterium. And there has never been a single statement from any pope or any Vatican dicastery which has rejected the moral legitimacy of using the neurological criterion.

In fact, an essay by Dr. Byrne against neurological criteria was submitted a number of years ago to Pope John Paul II by Dr. Theodore Steinman, a transplant physician at Harvard. Dr. Steinman received the following response from Cardinal Elio Sgreccia, who at the time was the President of the Pontifical Academy for Life: "The Secretary of State of His Holiness . . . has asked me to respond to your letter of April 7, 2001. In it you express your perplexity and conscientious concern after reading the article that appeared in the periodical Catholic World Report (March 2001) entitled ‘Are Organ Transplants Ever Morally Licit’? I can confirm that this article does not reflect the official doctrine of the Church. The Church’s thinking continues to be what was expressed in the Holy Father’s discourse of August 29, 2000. . . . I would like to take this opportunity to thank you on behalf of the Holy Father both for the confidence and appreciation you expressed for his Magisterium, and for your commitment in the service of patients. In the Holy Father’s name, I am pleased to extend to you his apostolic blessing as a sign of the Lord’s accompaniment in the comforting task you carry out for patients and their families in the delicate area of surgery."

This is hardly a statement from the Vatican equating organ donation with "euthanasia" or the illicit taking of innocent life as Dr. Byrne argues. What Blessed John Paul II said in the Address referenced by Cardinal Sgreccia is the following: "It is a well-known fact that for some time certain scientific approaches to ascertaining death have shifted from cardio-respiratory signs to the so-called ‘neurological criterion’. . . Here it can be said that [this] criterion . . . does not seem to conflict with the essential elements of a sound anthropology. Therefore, a health care worker professionally responsible for ascertaining death can use these criteria in each individual case as the basis for arriving at that degree of assurance in ethical judgment which moral teaching describes as ‘moral certainty.’"

This has not been the teaching only of Pope John Paul II. The Pontifical Academy of Sciences in 1985, 1989 and again in 2008 accepted the legitimacy of the neurological criterion for determining death. So did the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Care to Health Workers 1995 in its 1995 Charter for Health Care Workers. The Charter was reviewed prior to publication by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of which Cardinal Ratzinger was the head. The Charter states: "In order that a person be considered a corpse, it is enough that cerebral death of the donor be ascertained." This is also the position of the Pontifical Academy for Life, the Catholic Bioethics Center at the Sacred Heart University in Rome, and the International Federation of Bioethics Institutes of Personalist Inspiration (FIBIP) founded by Cardinal Elio Sgreccia.

This teaching of the Church is of course not an irreformable, dogmatic teaching that a Catholic must accept in order to be saved! However, if faithful Catholics want to look to the Church for moral guidance, they should know that the Church allows organ donation after a person has been declared dead using neurological criteria.

Dr. Paul Byrne is a tireless pro-life warrior who has no obligation to accept current Church teaching with respect to the transplantation of vital organs. But faithful Catholics ought to know that his views do not reflect the current moral teachings of the Church on the subject.

John M. Haas, Ph.D., S.T.L., is president of The National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia.

Events Calendar

April 2014
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
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04:00 PM
Planned Parenthood, Enfield, Enfield, United States
Concerned Citizens 4 Life  will hold a series of peaceful prayer vigils in front of the new Planned [...]
Date :  April 13, 2014
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04:00 PM
Planned Parenthood, Enfield, Enfield, United States
Concerned Citizens 4 Life  will hold a series of peaceful prayer vigils in front of the new Planned [...]
Date :  April 14, 2014
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04:00 PM
Planned Parenthood, Enfield, Enfield, United States
Concerned Citizens 4 Life  will hold a series of peaceful prayer vigils in front of the new Planned [...]
Date :  April 15, 2014
16
04:00 PM
Planned Parenthood, Enfield, Enfield, United States
Concerned Citizens 4 Life  will hold a series of peaceful prayer vigils in front of the new Planned [...]
07:00 PM
Our Lady of Pompeii Church, East Haven, East Haven, United States
The annual Novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Help that began on March 5 continues at 7 p.m. Wednesdays at [...]
Date :  April 16, 2014
17
04:00 PM
Planned Parenthood, Enfield, Enfield, United States
Concerned Citizens 4 Life  will hold a series of peaceful prayer vigils in front of the new Planned [...]
Date :  April 17, 2014
18
04:00 PM
Planned Parenthood, Enfield, Enfield, United States
Concerned Citizens 4 Life  will hold a series of peaceful prayer vigils in front of the new Planned [...]
07:00 PM
St. Margaret Mary Church, South Windsor, South Windsor, United States
A Novena for Divine Mercy will be held at St. Margaret Mary Church beginning at 7 p.m. on Good Friday, April 18, and concluding at 3 p.m. on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 27. The Divine Mercy Chaplet will [...]
Date :  April 18, 2014
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04:00 PM
Planned Parenthood, Enfield, Enfield, United States
Concerned Citizens 4 Life  will hold a series of peaceful prayer vigils in front of the new Planned [...]
07:00 PM
St. Margaret Mary Church, South Windsor, South Windsor, United States
A Novena for Divine Mercy will be held at St. Margaret Mary Church beginning at 7 p.m. on Good Friday, April 18, and concluding at 3 p.m. on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 27. The Divine Mercy Chaplet will [...]
Date :  April 19, 2014
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04:00 PM
Planned Parenthood, Enfield, Enfield, United States
Concerned Citizens 4 Life  will hold a series of peaceful prayer vigils in front of the new Planned [...]
07:00 PM
St. Margaret Mary Church, South Windsor, South Windsor, United States
A Novena for Divine Mercy will be held at St. Margaret Mary Church beginning at 7 p.m. on Good Friday, April 18, and concluding at 3 p.m. on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 27. The Divine Mercy Chaplet will [...]
Date :  April 20, 2014
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07:00 PM
St. Margaret Mary Church, South Windsor, South Windsor, United States
A Novena for Divine Mercy will be held at St. Margaret Mary Church beginning at 7 p.m. on Good Friday, April 18, and concluding at 3 p.m. on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 27. The Divine Mercy Chaplet will [...]
Date :  April 21, 2014
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07:00 PM
St. Margaret Mary Church, South Windsor, South Windsor, United States
A Novena for Divine Mercy will be held at St. Margaret Mary Church beginning at 7 p.m. on Good Friday, April 18, and concluding at 3 p.m. on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 27. The Divine Mercy Chaplet will [...]
Date :  April 22, 2014
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06:00 PM
Mercy Hall, University of St. Joseph, West Hartford, West Hartford, United States
WEST HARTFORD – The Art Gallery at the University of St. Joseph (USJ) will present the 2014 Vincenza Uccello Fine Arts Lecture featuring [...]
07:00 PM
Caritas Christi Center, Hamden, Hamden, United States
Full of Grace: Gentle Yoga and Centering Prayer will meet for seven Wednesdaysat the Caritas Christi [...]
07:00 PM
Our Lady of Pompeii Church, East Haven, East Haven, United States
The annual Novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Help that began on March 5 continues at 7 p.m. Wednesdays at [...]
07:00 PM
St. Margaret Mary Church, South Windsor, South Windsor, United States
A Novena for Divine Mercy will be held at St. Margaret Mary Church beginning at 7 p.m. on Good Friday, April 18, and concluding at 3 p.m. on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 27. The Divine Mercy Chaplet will [...]
Date :  April 23, 2014
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06:00 PM
Pope John Paul II School, New Britain, New Britain, United States
Pope John Paul II Catholic School in New Britain will have an open house for new and prospective students [...]
07:00 PM
Caritas Christi Center, Hamden, Hamden, United States
Dr. Tim Gray's study of the Gospel of Luke expliains the fundamental themes of Jesus' messianic mission. [...]
07:00 PM
St. Brigid Parish, West Hartford, West Hartford, United States
The St. Brigid Ladies Guild annual Monte Carlo Whist Party will be held at 7 p.m. April 24 in St. Brigid [...]
07:00 PM
St. Margaret Mary Church, South Windsor, South Windsor, United States
A Novena for Divine Mercy will be held at St. Margaret Mary Church beginning at 7 p.m. on Good Friday, April 18, and concluding at 3 p.m. on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 27. The Divine Mercy Chaplet will [...]
12:00 AM
St. Martha School, Enfield, Enfield, United States
St. Martha School in Enfield will hold an open house on Thursday, April 24, from 10-11:30 a.m. and 6:30-8 p.m. Tours will be conducted; and teachers, students, parents of students and administrators will [...]
Date :  April 24, 2014
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06:30 PM
Archdiocesan Center at St. Thomas Seminary, Bloomfield, Bloomfield, United States
An international food, wine and beer tasting will be held to benefit Immaculate Conception Shelter and [...]
07:00 PM
St. Margaret Mary Church, South Windsor, South Windsor, United States
A Novena for Divine Mercy will be held at St. Margaret Mary Church beginning at 7 p.m. on Good Friday, April 18, and concluding at 3 p.m. on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 27. The Divine Mercy Chaplet will [...]
07:30 PM
Cathedral of St. Joseph, Hartford, Hartford, United States
The Sacred Sounds Concert Series at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Hartford resumes at 7:30 p.m. on [...]
Date :  April 25, 2014
26
04:00 PM
Connor Chapel, University of St. Joseph
HARTFORD – Chorus Angelicus & Gaudeamus will join the combined choirs of St. Patrick-St. Anthony [...]
06:30 PM
St. Mary School, Newingtonn, Newington, United States
St. Mary School in Newington will host its annual wine and beer tasting event from 6:30-9:30 pm. March 1. [...]
06:30 PM
St. Mary School, Newingtonn, Newington, United States
St. Mary School's annual wine tasting and auction will take place from 6:30-9:30 p.m. April 26. The event will be hosted by NBC TV personality Brad Field.  Some of the items to be [...]
07:00 PM
St. Margaret Mary Church, South Windsor, South Windsor, United States
A Novena for Divine Mercy will be held at St. Margaret Mary Church beginning at 7 p.m. on Good Friday, April 18, and concluding at 3 p.m. on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 27. The Divine Mercy Chaplet will [...]
07:30 PM
Holy Family Retreat Center, West Hartford, West Hartford, United States
Holy Family Retreat Center, West Hartford, will present music and prayer for the Easter seaso at 7:30 p.m. [...]
09:00 AM
St. Monica Church, Northford, Northford, United States
NORTHFORD – St. Monica's Rosary Society will have its spring craft fair from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 26 [...]
09:00 AM
St. Mary-St. Michael School, Derby, Derby, United States
DERBY – Back by popular demand, organizers say, St. Mary-St. Michael School will sponsor a community shred day from 9 a.m. to noon April 26 at the school, located at 14 Seymour Ave.  Eco Shred [...]
09:30 AM
Caritas Christi Center, Hamden, Hamden, United States
"Making Friends with the False Self," a contemplative prayer program, will be presented by Father Bill [...]
Date :  April 26, 2014
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02:30 PM
St. Ann Church, Bristol, Bristol, United States
St.  Ann Church in Bristol will celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday on April 27 with a Mass at 2:30 p.m. [...]
03:00 PM
Knights of Columbus Museum/St. Stanislaus Church, New Haven, United States
NEW HAVEN – A relic of Blessed John Paul II will be available for the veneration of the public at St. Stanislaus Church in New Haven during a 3 p.m. prayer service on April 27, the day of the [...]
03:00 PM
Mary Our Queen Church, Plantsville, Southington, United States
Divine Mercy Holy Hour - Mary Our Queen Church, Southington, 3-4 p.m. April 27th.  Benediction, Homily, Chaplet of Divine Mercy, Veneration of relic of St. [...]
03:00 PM
Legion of Christ Seminary, Cheshire, Cheshire, United States
A Divine Mercy Holy Hour will be held at 3 p.m. April 27 at the Legion of Christ Seminary in Cheshire. It [...]
04:00 PM
St. Michael Church, Litchfield CT
HARTFORD – Chorus Angelicus & Gaudeamus will join the combined choirs of St. Patrick-St. Anthony [...]
07:00 PM
St. Margaret Mary Church, South Windsor, South Windsor, United States
A Novena for Divine Mercy will be held at St. Margaret Mary Church beginning at 7 p.m. on Good Friday, April 18, and concluding at 3 p.m. on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 27. The Divine Mercy Chaplet will [...]
11:30 AM
Pope John Paul II School, New Britain, New Britain, United States
The new St. John Paul II Catholic School in New Britain will be re-dedicated on April 27, when a series of [...]
12:45 PM
Charter Oak Cultural Center/Riverfront Mortensen Plaza, Hartford, United States
NEW HAVEN – The Office for Catholic Social Justice Ministry (OCSJM) of the Archdiocese of Hartford, in [...]
Date :  April 27, 2014
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07:00 PM
Farmington, United States
"Resurrection:  How can we respond to the needs of today and bring new life to ourselves and our world?" Deacon Art Miller, director of the Office for Black Catholic Ministries for the [...]
09:00 AM
Farmington, United States
"Resurrection:  How can we respond to the needs of today and bring new life to ourselves and our world?" Deacon Art Miller, director of the Office for Black Catholic Ministries for the [...]
Date :  April 29, 2014
30
07:00 AM
Caritas Christi Center, Hamden, Hamden, United States
HAMDEN – Caritas Christi Center will sponsor a day bus trip to St. Joseph the Worker Shrine in Lowell, [...]
07:00 PM
St. Anthony Parish Center, New Haven, New Haven, United States
The St. Anthony Society of St. Anthony Parish will have its 37th annual raffle and card party at 7 p.m. April 30 in [...]
07:00 PM
Caritas Christi Center, Hamden, Hamden, United States
Full of Grace: Gentle Yoga and Centering Prayer will meet for seven Wednesdaysat the Caritas Christi [...]
09:00 AM
Farmington, United States
"Resurrection:  How can we respond to the needs of today and bring new life to ourselves and our world?" Deacon Art Miller, director of the Office for Black Catholic Ministries for the [...]
09:00 AM
Our Lady of Mercy Parish, Plainville, Plainville, United States
Our Lady of Mercy Parish will offer a five-part program for lay Catholics titled “We the People of [...]
Date :  April 30, 2014

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