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Even when a patient has clinically died, as indicated by the absence of all signs of life, we should remain humble before the mystery of God’s creation, and not presuppose to know with certainty the exact moment when the soul has left the body.
By Bishop Joseph E. Strickland, Joseph M. Eble, MD, Catholic World Report, April 21, 2022
Bishop Joseph E. Strickland was born in Fredericksburg, Texas; ordained a priest for the Diocese of Dallas in 1985 and ordained as the fourth bishop the Diocese of Tyler in 2012. … Joseph M. Eble, MD, is the president of the Tulsa Guild of the Catholic Medical Association and a managing partner of Fidelis Radiology. Dr. Eble’s publications include “Brain Death: What Catholics Need to Know” and his most recent interview on the topic of brain death was with Father Mitch Pacwa on EWTN Live. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Catholic Church is clear that life begins at conception. The exact moment of death is harder to determine. The Church teaches in the Catechism that at death “life is changed, not ended,” and that death represents the moment of “the separation of the soul from the body.”
In 1968, the term “brain death” was introduced by a Harvard Medical School committee with the definition “irreversible coma as a new criterion for death.” Since that time there has been much debate whether this is a valid definition of death, and whether the soul has indeed separated from the body in a “brain-dead” patient. If it has not, then to declare persons “brain dead” who are not in actuality dead risks the violation of their inherent dignity, for if their organs are harvested for transplantation purposes this would be the cause of their lives ending. …