Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

As we celebrate the 175th Anniversary of the Archdiocese, we look back… on July 20, 1971 when parishioners settled on a site for the new St. Thomas the Apostle Church, Oxford.
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The following is a response to a story in the May issue about a talk Dr. John Haas gave on April 3 at Holy Apostles College and Seminary:

John Haas, in his Connecticut presentation, quoted the Aug. 29, 2000, Address of Blessed John Paul II but ignored subsequent statements by Pope John Paul II in defense of life and a more recent statement by Pope Benedict XVI.

Blessed John Paul II wrote in Evangelium Vitae: "Nothing and no one can in any way permit the killing of an innocent human being, whether a fetus or an embryo, an infant or an adult, an old person, or one suffering from an incurable disease, or a person who is dying. Furthermore, no one is permitted to ask for this act of killing, either for himself or herself or for another person entrusted to his or her care, nor can he or she consent to it, either explicitly or implicitly. Nor can any authority legitimately recommend or permit such an action" (Ev. Vitae 52).

On Feb 11, 2003, World Day of the Sick, His Holiness stated, "Every therapeutic procedure, all experimentation and every transplant must take into account this fundamental truth. Thus it is never licit to kill one human being in order to save another."

Pope John Paul II’s Address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on Feb. 3-4, 2005, included, "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. 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."

Haas accepts that a person is truly dead while there is a beating heart, circulation and respiration, albeit supported by a ventilator. John Haas stated that his position is based on the Aug. 29, 2000, Address by Pope John Paul II: "This consists in establishing, according to clearly determined parameters commonly held by the international scientific community, the complete and irreversible cessation of all brain activity (in the cerebrum, cerebellum and brain stem). This is then considered the sign that the individual organism has lost its integrative capacity."

It must be pointed out that there are no "clearly determined parameters commonly held by the international scientific community." From the very first set of "brain death" criteria, the Harvard Criteria, there have not been parameters of any kind "commonly held by the international scientific community." A recent survey of the leading neurological institutions in the United States of America showed that there is no consensus of the many (more than 30, probably 100, or even more) disparate sets of criteria (Neurology, Jan 2008). Then, in Neurology, July 2010, it was published that "brain death" is not evidence-based. Thus, for "brain death" can there be "clearly defined parameters commonly held by the international scientific community"?

Many misconceptions about criteria for determining "brain death" revolve around "irreversibility" and its cognates. "Irreversibility as such is not an empirical concept and cannot be empirically determined. Irreversibility, however, of any kind, is a property about which we can learn only by inference from prior experience. It is not an observable condition. Hence, it cannot serve as evidence, nor can it rightly be made part of an empirical criterion of death."

A presumption of irreversibility of a lack of brain functioning, even if "cerebrum, cerebellum and brain-stem" are included, is insufficient grounds for removing a patient’s vital organs or for immediate autopsy, cremation or burial. None of the many sets of criteria includes clinical evaluation of functioning of the cerebellum

Absolute irreversibility of brain functioning, among other characteristics of a cadaver, reflects the fact of death. But such irreversibility can only be known by us if we already know the fact of death. Death is the criterion of absolute irreversibility, not vice-versa. Relative irreversibility, viz., relative to our capacity to reverse the nonfunctional character of this brain, is not a criterion of death. If we are not sure of absolute irreversibility, then we are not sure that real death, as distinct from a clinical declaration of "brain death," "heart death," "as good as dead," "soon to be dead," etc., has occurred. Without such certainty, organ extraction cannot begin without violating the Fifth Commandment.

The declaration of Pope John Paul II is a conditional one that has not been met. Pope Benedict XVI, on Nov. 7, 2008, specified: "It is helpful to remember, however, that the individual vital organs cannot be extracted except ex cadavere, which, moreover, possesses its own dignity that must be respected. [Pope Benedict XVI made his teaching clear and specific by using Latin, "ex cadavere," which translates as "from a cadaver."] However, in these cases the principal criteria of respect for the life of the donator must always prevail so that the extraction of organs be performed only in the case of his/her true death (cf. Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 476)."

Genuine certainty must exist prior to any declaration of death. A very simple test of the certainty that this key condition concerning "brain death" has been fulfilled is the following: could it be wrong and is it often wrong? If the reply is affirmative, then the condition required for moral certainty to be genuine certainty in the sense of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, namely that this human body is not a living body, but is a cadaver, has not been realized. Can there be certainty of any kind if one would say a cadaver has a beating heart, circulation and respiration? A cadaver does not and cannot have signs of life like a beating heart, circulation and respiration; a cadaver is suitable for autopsy, embalming, cremation and burial.

Over time, it has become clear that "brain death" is not true death. Many references in the scientific literature for this can be found in the paper "Brain Death is Not Death: A Critique of the Concept, Criterion, and Tests of Brain Death," by A.R. Joffe.

There are many news accounts of people recovering after a declaration of "brain dead." Zack Dunlap from Oklahoma was declared "brain dead." There was no blood flow to his brain as evidenced by a PET scan. The helicopter was landing to extract Zack’s organs. A cousin who is a nurse in the ICU did another test. A response was observed. The transplant was stopped. This and others were recorded for the national and international community.

Dr. Paul A. Byrne is the director of pediatrics and neonatology at Mercy St. Charles Hospital in Oregon, Ohio, and a clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of Toledo, College of Medicine.

alertAt the Spring Assembly of the U.S. bishops, Cardinal Joseph Tobin suggested that a delegation ofbishops go to the border to see for themselves what was happening to newly arrived immigrants, families and children. On July 1 and 2, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops conference, and five other bishops conducted a pastoral visit to the diocese of Brownsville, Texas. Stops included Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle with the community, a visit to anHHS/OBR Shelter and Mass for the families there, a visit to the Customs and Border Patrol processing center in McAllen, TX, and a press conference at the end of their visit. Catholic News Service accompanied the bishops on their border trip. 

  1. Backgrounder and analysis of the bishops’ trip to the border: Cardinal DiNardo told CNS, “You cannot look at immigration as an abstraction when you meet” the people behind the issue.
  2. At final press conference, Cardinal Daniel Dinardo said the church was willing to be part of any conversation to find humane solutions because even a policy of detaining families together in facilities caused “concern.”
  3. Bishops serve soup to immigrant families at a center run by Catholic Charities and listen to their stories. Scranton Bishop Joseph Bambera said he found hope in hearing the people in the room talk about what’s ahead. They didn’t speak of making money but of finding safety for their children, he said, driven by “the most basic instinct to protect your family.”
  4. At an opening Mass he Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle-National Shrine near McAllen, Texas, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville told Massgoers, “The bishops are visiting here so they can stop and look and talk to people and understand, especially the suffering of many who are amongst us,”

A delegation of U.S. bishops goes on a fact-finding mission at the U.S.-Mexican border to learn more about Central American immigration detention.

Following their visit to an immigrant detention center, U.S. bishops said they are even more determined to call on Congress for comprehensive immigration reform.