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The audacious and chutzpah of transplant surgeons

An article came out on March 27th, titled Hospital Organ Donor Programs Push the Envelope written by Cheryl Clark, for Health Leaders Media. In the first sentence she says:

Of all the procedures in hospital medicine that actually keep sick people alive, perhaps the most audacious is the organ transplant.

Organ procurement and transplantation have always pushed the envelope. Those who work in this field seem to be constantly finding more creative ways to utilize organs and maximize their potential through science and strategy, and downright chutzpah.

My good friend of mine, Carolyn who has told the story of her daughter Melissa sent it to me. So let’s dissect it here.

What does the word audacious mean? What did the author mean when she said “the most audacious procedures in the hospitals to keep people alive are organ transplants?”

Audacious means 1) “showing a willingness to take surprisingly bold risks” 2)  “recklessly bold in defiance of convention, propriety, law, or the like; insolent; brazen”.

Donation after cardiac death” (DCD), occurs when patients who have suffered brain damage, such as from a car accident or a stroke and after family members make the difficult decision to discontinue a ventilator or other life-sustaining treatment.(or are forces by the hospital to)  Basically DCD is the method used when an injured person is pronounced brain dead and the family believes the loved one is not truly dead until the heart stops beating.

one domino at a time fallsAt one time this was pushing the envelope, but now it is approved in all the hospitals.

“The person is not dead yet,” said Jerry A. Menikoff, an associate professor of law, ethics and medicine at the University of Kansas. “They are going to be dead, but we should be honest and say that we’re starting to remove the organs a few minutes before they meet the legal definition of death.

In response to such concerns, most doctors wait five minutes after the heart stops before pronouncing patients dead. But doctors at some hospitals wait three minutes, others two. In Denver, surgeons at Children’s Hospital wait 75 seconds before starting to remove hearts from infants, to maximize the chances that the organs will be useable.

“A lot of us are not particularly happy about cutting that line particularly close,” said Gail A. Van Norman, an anesthesiologist and bioethicist at the University of Washington in Seattle.

David Crippen, a University of Pittsburgh critical-care specialist, asked, “Now that we’ve established that we’re going to take organs from patients who have a prognosis of death but who do not meet the strict definition of death, might we become more interested in taking organs from patients who are not dead at all but who are incapacitated or disabled?”

John Kirstein, a perfusionist (human organ expert) at Calgary’s Foothills Hospital is quoted as saying, “We have to take the heart from a physically living person.” Such an unthinkable and shocking admission clearly shows that the term “brain dead” has been manipulated to convey something radically different from the traditional meaning of death.  (excerpts: David Heather, Brain Death Fact or Fiction)

Taking organs from incapacitated or disabled people is already next on the agenda.


Chutzpah means fearlessness, personal confidence or courage that allows someone to do or say things that may seem shocking to others. So what the author said is “Those who work in this field seem to be constantly finding more creative ways to utilize organs and maximize their potential through science and strategy, and downright chutzpah.”

Here is what I believe she is saying with the use of these two words audacious and chutzpah in organ donation.

Transplant surgeons are fearless, they do things that shock reasonable people. They take bold risks in defiance of convention, property and law. They don’t care. Push the envelope, get more organs.

What was once outrageous has now become an acceptable cultural norm.

We have allowed it to happen.

So now I ask you?

1) Do you believe there is a vast difference between a person who is dying and a person who is dead?

2) Is life from conception to true death something that any man has the right to choose or decide?

Death is more than the lack of readings on an electroencephalogram (EEG),it is more than not being able to breath over a ventilator…  it involves the departure of the person’s spirit from this life to another realm. It is an alteration of one’s very being, not the perceived idleness of an organ or the inability to communicate with others. It is wrong to confine the essence of a person to the functions of the brain alone.  (Hebrews 4:12)

A humanistic view of man only considers that which can be measured on machines and entirely suppresses the immaterial, spiritual components of man’s nature. Man in his essence possesses a brain, but he is not only a brain. In the physical realm the scriptures emphasize the entire body, not just one of its key organs.

Man is not a just a physical body, he is body and soul and spirit. One unity. For an organism as complicated as the human body, it is not valid to identify death based on the absence of function of only one organ. (the brain)  There is a mutual interdependence of organs and systems throughout life. No one organ is in complete control of all the others. They are mutually dependent.

To understand true death we have to understand that God our Creator, is the Author of Life. It is the failure of holding this basic world view that we have succumbed and allowed the audacious and chutzpah of the transplant world.

I believe it is time to take back a biblical and scientific world view of LIFE.


Sources: here, here, here.

Flickr photo credit