Topic: Using Anencephalic Newborns as Potential Donors
Audience: University Students: Health Science Graduates and Faculty
Good evening my fellow colleagues, and welcome to our on-campus organ donation seminar. My name is Star Safari, and I am honored and humbled that my colleagues have asked me to be your speaker for this evening. Before I jump in to our evening’s discussion, I would like to tell you a bit about myself. I am a student here at CSUN and I have been studying Public Health with an emphasis on Environmental and Occupational Health along with Nursing.
I have a burning passion for preserving the life of children and helping them grow up as healthy individuals; therefore today I will be talking about organ donation from anencephalic infants to otherwise overall healthy children in need and why the definition of death for anencephalic infants should be an exception to preserve the life of another child. First and foremost, anencephaly is a serious neural tube birth defect that is characterized by the absence of the forebrain, skull and scalp. This includes lack of brain development above the level of the brain stem. However, there is still brain stem activity, which enables the heart and the lungs to function for a short time; developing less and less regular breathing and eventually causing the infant to die from respitory failure. There is an estimate of 2,000-3,000 anencephalic infants is born each year and unfortunately, the majority of these anencephalic infants die within days or weeks without life support.
I believe that one of the greatest miracles of modern medicine is the capability of successfully transplanting human organs, such as kidneys and hearts into other humans who would die without it.
There has been and continues to be a growing need, and increasing shortage of transplant organs. Under present definitions and laws, organs cannot be taken from a person who does not meet the currently accepted “whole brain” definition of death, which requires “irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain, including the brain stem. The anencephalic does not meet this definition; it is not brain-dead, even though the brain is incomplete with the absence of most of the cerebral cortex.
According to medical studies, keeping the infant on life support for the family disrupts the complete function of the organs; therefore tampering with the quality of the anencephalic organs and causing irreversible damage by depriving them of consistent oxygen and blood flow. When the infant passes, the organs are no longer usable and or feasible for donation and transplantation.
Allow me to make this clearer for you. Her name was Claire. She was the youngest daughter of two. Her kidneys stopped functioning 9 months into her life. Three times a week she spent half a day on dialysis and the rest of the day recovering from the procedure. She rarely had energy left inside her small body and was constantly exhausted. When she became a candidate for a kidney, her parents, and her whole family were ecstatic. Unfortunately, she died before an organ became available.
I should not be standing here today, telling you about Claire’s death.
A shortage of organs and loss of anencephalic organs has created legal and ethical debate regarding the policy issues behind both determination of death and organ transplantation. One side of the debate indicates that the law should declare these infants similar to brain dead so that their organs may be taken and used while the organs are still viable. The other side of the debate reiterates that anencephalic newborns have full rights under the law, including the right to bodily integrity and the right to die naturally.
Now you tell me, who is taking the unethical route to not use these organs to save another life? A life that, unlike the anencephalic, has potential to live many years.
I encourage you all to think about this carefully.
Organ donation is an incredible gift. It can save the life of the one who receives it, and strangely helps the family of the one who died. It could be your child, your best friend’s, a family member’s, and or a colleague’s child, who needs a kidney or any other organ.
I understand that taking one’s life to preserve another is unethical. And it is. But this is not the case with anencephalic infants. Unfortunately, anencephalic infants cannot live with the limitations they are born with; but imagine a child riding a bike for the first time, learning how to read, their first day of school, graduating from college, and living up to their potentials. His or her organ donor made that possible. By donating anencephalic organs, one will be giving the gift of life and making their infant’s death a meaningful one.
In closing, I would like to announce that I have provided literature, documents, and studies regarding what I discussed this evening. Along with the literature in the back of the room, you will also find a petition to make an exception to change the definition of death for anencephalic infants to save another child. This will be sent to our congressmen, eventually leading to the United States Supreme Court.
Let’s save a life.
Thank you for your time.