Edit -August 31, 2008 - before you sign an organ donor card, please also see these more recent posts on the dilemma of organ donation.
A young handicapped man with little ability to pay for medical expenses is murdered for his organs by a doctor who kept administering lethal doses of morphine and Ativan. Sound far fetched? It happened in California, and the doctor who administered the lethal dose of drugs was actually working for a California organ-harvesting corporation. When the twenty six year old didn't die from the overdoses, he was left without life support until he died nine hours later.
The push for social acceptance of euthanasia and a high demand for organs creates situations where the donor is no longer viewed and cared for as a patient, but seen as the means to supply life to the patient waiting for organs. With no universally-accepted medical definition of brain-death, the door is wide open for abuse of organ donation. In China, prisoners are killed for their organs after a match is found, and in Canada and the US, "non-beating heart" organ donations have the ethical implication of doctors decreasing the wait time after cardiac asystole in order to harvest "better" organs.
The Catholic Church considers organ donation an act of charity and love. Pope John Paul II calls organ donation an act of everyday heroism in the 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae:
"A particularly praiseworthy example of such gestures is the donation of organs, performed in an ethically acceptable manner, with a view to offering a chance of health and even life itself to the sick who sometimes have no hope." (Evangelium Vitae, n. 86).
The Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services states that “Catholic health care institutions should encourage and provide the means whereby those who wish to do so may arrange for the donation of their organs and bodily tissue, for ethically legitimate purposes, so that they may be used for donation and research after death.” Directive No. 64: “Such organs should not be removed until it has been medically determined that the patient has died. (my emphasis). In order to prevent any conflict of interest, the physician who determines death should not be a member of the transplant team.”
It used to be fairly easy to determine when death had occurred. Now, with the high demand for organ donation and the relatively low supply of donors, calling a death has become an ethical issue when the patient is also an organ donor. Patients who are organ donors are kept alive until the removal of their vital organs causes their death.
Removing life support before death has occurred for the sake of harvesting higher quaility organs is a moral dilemma that keeps me from being an organ donor. That, and the very real moral question of when exactly does the soul leave the body? The Catholic Church has always held that the soul leaves the body at the moment of biological death, and with organ donation, biological death occurs when the transplant team removes the vital organs.