FaithWorld

Vatican denies it’s trying to redefine death

L’Osservatore Romano with death article (right column), 3 Sept 2008 The Vatican has caused a stir by appearing to want to redefine death and then denying any such thing. If where there’s smoke, there’s fire, we haven’t heard the end of this yet.

It all started with a front-page article in the Vatican daily L’Osservatore Romano challenging the widely-accepted concept that brain death — the irreversible end of all brain activity — is the right standard for determining that someone has died. The article argued that doctors developed that standard 40 years ago to enable them to harvest organs for transplantation. The article by Lucetta Scaraffia, an Italian history professor and bioethicist, argued:

“The scientific justification of (the brain death standard) rests on a peculiar definition of the nervous system that is now being questioned by new research, which casts doubt on the fact that brain death leads to the disintegration of the body … The idea that the human person ceases to exist when the brain no longer functions, while the body is kept alive thanks to artificial respiration, implies an identification of the person with brain activity alone. This contradicts the concept of the person according to Catholic doctrine and thus contradicts the directives of the Church in the case of patients in a persistent coma.”

German nurse prepares brain-dead woman to donate liver and kidneys for transplant, 20 May 2008/Fabrizio BenschThe Vatican accepts organ transplantation and the brain death standard, which is widely used in Catholic hospitals. Declaring the brain death criterion un-Catholic would mean those hospitals would have to revert to the cardiac death standard alone. But that leaves a much smaller window for removing viable organs and would make one kind of transplantation — heart transplants — all but impossible. As it is, there is already such a shortage of organs for transplantation that scandalous black markets for them exist and some experts want to see organs sold like commodities on an open market.

The Vatican has not changed its view on brain death despite holding two scientific conferences (in 2005 and 2006) to discuss it, but there are dissenters among Catholic bioethicists like Scaraffia who want to keep the debate going. She used the 40th anniversary of the pioneering Harvard Report that advocated the brain death standard to call for a reassessment.

In Nepal, human rights apply to living goddesses too

A kumari at a Kathmandu festival, 26 July 2008/Shruti ShresthaWhenever God is mentioned in connection with human rights, the idea is usually that there are “God-given rights” bestowed on humans.

Nepal’s Supreme Court has turned this around by bestowing basic human rights such as education and healthcare on gods. Goddesses, to be more precise. It seems that kumaris , virgin girls venerated as “living goddesses” and confined to Buddhist temples until puberty, return to their families as teenagers unprepared for real life. Critics of the tradition filed a suit that led to the Supreme Court decision.

“A directive order has been issued to the government to provide basic human rights, including education and health (care) to the child,” Supreme Court spokesman Hemanta Rawal said. “This means the child’s rights can’t be violated in the name of culture.”

When faith and health care clash for French Muslims

Intensive care unit at Ambroise Pare hospital in Marseille, 8 April 2008/Jean-Paul PelissierA French Muslim who blocked a male doctor from performing an emergency caeserian on his wife has lost his bid to sue the hospital because his son was born handicapped, according to French press and radio reports. The court also ordered him to pay the court costs — €1,000 ($1,550) — because he kept the doctor from “performing the tests that could have prevented the serious neurological complications” that occurred. Coming shortly after the “virginity lie” controversy, this case has once again raised the question of if and how to accommodate religious demands from Muslims in France.

The law in French state hospitals is clear. Women can request women doctors and probably get them most of the time. But if the attending doctor that night is a man, as happened in this case, the woman — and in this case, her husband — have to accept that. When this woman went into labour in November 1998, the couple rushed to a hospital in Bourg-en-Bresse and a midwife examined her. She recognised a complication and called the doctor, but the husband physically blocked him for half an hour because he did not want a strange man touching his wife. By the time he gave in, it was too late for a caeserian and the baby had to be delivered by foreceps. Little Mohammed is now 100% handicapped.

The father sued the hospital for €100,000 in damages and €10,000 in personal compensation. The court rejected this and blamed the father, saying: “The child’s state is totally attributable to the attitude of Mr. Radouane Ijjou.”