New Jersey Looking to Harvest More Organs by Easing “Brain Death” Criteria

In some jurisdictions the effort to produce more organs for transplant patients is being aided by plans to “streamline” the medical criteria for “brain death” so that organs can be harvested from patients who are still breathing and have a heartbeat.

The New Jersey State Board of Medical Examiners wants to change the rules to allow just one physician to declare brain death. In addition, the rule that currently requires at least one of the two required physicians declaring “brain death” to be a neurologist or neurosurgeon would also be eliminated. The New Jersey Star Ledger reports that under the proposed rules any doctor given the privileges by a hospital could declare a patient brain dead.

Steven Drake from the disability advocacy organization, Not Dead Yet, told the New Jersey proposal could go through and if so would likely present a threat to patients.

“Any time you loosen the criteria it means that you’re going to have more misdiagnosis. It’s just a matter of numbers. If you reduce the number and qualifications for the physicians people are going to be misdiagnosed.”

Drake, who himself suffered a brain injury at birth and whose attending physician told his relatives he would be ‘better off dead,’ pointed out that doctors will suffer no consequences when botching a brain death determination. “Conveniently, the patient will be dead; there will be no way to confirm it.”

The people driving the ethics community further in its current utilitarian direction, Drake said, “would rather have more organs available for ‘worthy’ people than ‘waste resources’ on people with severe brain injury that many professionals equate privately with those they've labelled ‘brain-dead.’”

The real problem, some medical ethicists have said, is not that brain death might be misdiagnosed, but that it is not a genuine medical diagnosis in the first place. There is growing fear that human beings are starting to be seen in medical and bioethics circles merely as potential donors of organs.

Attendees at a Vatican conference were warned of the growing eagerness to redefine death in order to facilitate organ transplants from “useless” brain injury patients into more promising recipients. Dr. Paul Byrne, former president of the Catholic Medical Association in the US declared, “Brain death is not death.”

Drake told that confirmation of Byrne’s assertion came in his hearing from a very unexpected corner.

Drake was invited to debate prominent bioethicist Peter Singer at a private school in Chicago in 2004. In his speech, Singer said that the brain death criteria did not exist in medical literature until its invention by a group of bioethicists who used it to “sell brain death” to the public.

Singer said that in the last 30 years nations have all amended the definition of death to include brain death, not because of any medical breakthrough or scientific discovery, but as a result of changes in ethics policies and advances in transplant medicine.

Singer is the world’s foremost advocate of euthanasia and infanticide and his views are immensely influential in the bioethics world. His appointment as De Camp Professor of Bioethics, University Center for Human Values, Princeton University in 1999 is still causing controversy.

Singer pointed to the obvious benefits to hospitals of the invention of “brain death” to free up beds. But more chillingly, it is the advantage for transplant patients from “brain death” that Singer points to as an improvement.

Singer said, the result of this “ethical choice” is that a person on a ventilator who would have been considered alive 30 years ago, “is now considered a good candidate for having his chest cut open to take out a beating heart to give to a total stranger.”

Drake said the point is clear. “We all treat ‘brain death’ as something real, but until the bioethicists came up with it, it didn’t exist.”

The Medical Society of New Jersey is reviewing the proposal and the public can comment until July 14.

Contact the Medical Society of New Jersey:

Two Princess Road


New Jersey, USA 08648

phone: 609-896-1766;

fax: 609-896-1368;

(This article courtesy of

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