Doctor questions

Nathan Whalen

Undergraduate students and health care professionals had their concepts of brain death and organ donation challenged Saturday at the Brain Death and Organ Transplant Seminar at Moos Tower.
Dr. Paul Byrne, neonatologist from Sylvania, Ohio, discussed the ethical concerns of brain death and presented a documentary on the subject.
“Brain death is no death,” said Byrne, who added that the definition of brain death “creates fiction of the determination of death.”
Byrne questions the practice of removing organs from brain-dead patients on the grounds that they might still be alive. He said he believes there isn’t enough study on the subject to adequately diagnose brain death.
“He is a national leader on the subject,” said John Dolan, co-chairman of the Program in Human Rights and Medicine.
Health officials say brain death is defined as the irreversible cessation of all brain functions, including the brain stem.
Organs removed from brain-dead patients, whose blood could still be circulating, transplant better than organs from dead patients who have no circulation or respiration.
“Dr. Byrne highlights problems where established criteria aren’t being met,” said post-doctoral associate Curtis Herbert. There are more than 30 different methods that can be used to determine brain death.
Not everyone shared Byrne’s opinions. Philosophy professor Jasper Hopkins said there is nothing wrong with the criteria currently used to classify brain death. Hopkins said Byrne’s documentary on brain death was discredited by the medical community.
Despite these misgivings, Byrne’s work has had an impact. Annex Medical Supply, based in Eden Prairie, Minn., has discontinued its production of a forceps used in heart transplants because of the ethical problems Byrne presented. Stuart Lind, president of Annex Medical, said customers of the forceps have been supportive of their decision.
The event was sponsored by the Program in Human Rights and Medicine. In hopes of expanding dialogue on this subject, the program has tentative plans to have a transplant surgeon speak in the fall.