.- Today the Vatican released a Letter from Pope John Paul II to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences regarding the practice of transplanting organs from the deceased.
In the letter, the Holy Father notes that the academy "has chosen to dedicate this session of the Study Group - as on two earlier occasions during the 1980s - to a theme of particular complexity and importance: that of the 'signs of death', in the context of the practice of transplanting organs from deceased persons."
He speaks of the Church's "constant and informed interest in the development of the surgical practice of organ transplant, intended to save human lives from imminent death and to allow the sick to continue living for a further period of years."
He pointed out that the Church has "encouraged the free donation of organs, ... underlined the ethical conditions for such donation," and "indicated the duties of the specialists who carry out this procedure of organ transplant."
The Pope said that there must be "ongoing research on the technical-scientific level" by those who perform transplants and "a constant dialogue with experts in anthropological and ethical disciplines, so as to guarantee respect for life and for the human person."
He turns to the question of "'the signs of death' on the basis of which a person's clinical death can be established with moral certainty, in order to proceed with the removal of organs for transplant. Within the horizon of Christian anthropology, 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."
From the clinical point of view, however, the only correct way - and also the only possible way - to address the problem of ascertaining the death of a human being is by devoting attention and research to the individuation of adequate 'signs of death', known through their physical manifestation in the individual subject."
"Pius XII", the Pope continued, "declared that 'it is for the doctor to give a clear and precise definition of 'death' and of the 'moment of death' of a patient who lapses into a state of unconsciousness'."
The Holy Father assured academy members that the Holy See will aid the group's research, "especially the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith."