As a matter of fact, vital organs are highly essential for life maintenance. They traditionally include the heart, brain and brain stem, liver, lungs, stomach, intestines, kidneys, and pancreas (Cioffi, n.d.). However, there are non-vital organs that are important for the human body as well, however, their removal does not necessarily lead to death. Examples of these organs are the spleen, appendix, reproductive organs, or gallbladder (Taylor, 2017). In addition, a loss of one paired vital organ or the part of some vital organs, such as kidneys, lungs, colon, and stomach, also does not kill a human in the majority of cases.
Vital organs have the most essential functions as they are necessary for survival.
- The brain is the control center of the human body – using the nervous system and secreted hormones, it sends and receives signals to all organs. Moreover, the brain is also responsible for memory, thought, feelings, and general perceptions.
- Without the heart with its non-stop pumping, the blood will not be delivered to human organs.
- Kidneys remove extra fluid and urea from the blood and participate in the process of waste removal.
- The liver filters the blood, produces blood-clotting proteins, detoxifies harmful chemicals, and secretes bile for digestion.
- The lungs exchange carbon dioxide and oxygen with the blood.
- The stomach, pancreas, and intestines participate in the process of food digestion and the release of nutrients that subsequently enter the bloodstream.
It is not possible to live in the case of any vital organ’s complete removal. However, a human can live if parts of some vital organs are removed. For instance, people may live with only a part of the stomach, intestines, or brain, one kidney, or lung.
Assisting vital organs includes standard medical practices and clinical procedures with the normal use of devices and medications for life support. In turn, substituting vital organs that traditionally requires more complex procedure and serious interventions implies the change of organs that have failed irreversibly for healthy ones or replace it with specific devices (Cioffi, n.d.). From the position of bioethics, it is obligatory to assist vital organs as they are essential for maintaining life. However, it is not morally obligatory to substitute organs as their failure sooner or later is a natural process. At the same time, there is an exception – it is ethical to substitute vital organs of an otherwise healthy individual temporarily for improvement in the future.
Dialysis is a practice of kidneys’ substitution.; although injured or failed organs are not replaced with healthy ones, their functions are taken by specific machines (“Bioethical issues toward the end of human life,” n.d.).
A respirator is a device for organ assisting as it supports the lungs by protecting its wearer from inhaling fumes, gases, vapors, microorganisms, dust, and other hazardous matter.
Ventilation may be regarded as both lung substitution and assistance depending on settings. Thus, failed lungs are substituted at first and supported in the case of improvement.
Tracheotomy is the practice of the lungs’ assisting and trachea’s substitution. On the one hand, it provides oxygen for the lungs and helps remove secretions. On the other hand, the tracheostomy tube replaces the normal passage of air through the trachea.
Similar to ventilation, CPR is the practice of heart substitution from the beginning and heart assistance later when the situation is stabilized.
In general, the Catholic ministry of health care perceives death as a natural process and God’s will and faces its reality confidently and with faith. At the same time, health care institutions underline the significance of support for patients and their families in pain management and emotionally (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), 2018). Regarded as a gift from God, life should be valued and preserved, thus euthanasia and suicide are unacceptable. However, life-prolonging procedures are not always appropriate as well as people are not the owners of their lives. Thus, the Church emphasizes the necessity of care even when curing is impossible and asks to avoid the extremes of burdensome life prolonging and death-causing procedures.
Unconscious state is a person’s lack or absence of response to painful stimulus and unawareness of the environment and one’s self (“The unconscious states,” n.d.).
Coma – prolonged unconsciousness caused by a brain tumor, traumatic head injury, alcohol or drug intoxication, stroke, or underlying illnesses.
Persistent vegetative state (PVS) – a consciousness disorder, or post-coma unresponsiveness, when a patient is only partially aware of the reality.
Traumatic head injury – the brain’s sudden damage caused by external forces that causes severe prolonged and even permanent changes of awareness.
Brain hypoxia – a state of oxygen deficiency that affects the brain. It causes severe issues related to consciousness, such as inattentiveness, loss of memory, problems with movement, poor judgment, coma, seizure, and brain death.
Epileptic seizure – the disorder of the central nervous system that causes periods of unusual sensations, behavior, and loss of awareness.
Syncope – a temporary loss of consciousness caused by insufficient blood flow to the brain and sudden drops in blood pressure (“The unconscious states,” n.d.).
Locked-in syndrome – a state characterized by awareness along with muscle paralysis.
A patient has a moral obligation to use proportionate and ordinary means of life maintenance. In addition, the individual characteristics of a patient should be considered for decision-making concerning appropriate treatment (Plakovic, 2016). At the same time, it is morally wrong to use disproportionate and extraordinary means that cause an excessive burden for the patient’s family or the community in general.
Bioethical issues toward the end of human life. (n.d.). Module 5: Lecture Materials & Resources.
Cioffi, A. (n.d.). When to disconnect? Bioethical distinction between assisting or substituting vital organs. 1-4.
Plakovic, K. (2016). Burdens versus benefits: When family has to decide how much is too much. Journal of Hospice and Palliative Nursing, 18(5), 382-387.
Taylor, A. (2017). Seven body organs you can live without. The Conversation. Web.
The unconscious states. (n.d.). Module 5: Lecture Materials & Resources.
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). (2018). Ethical and religious directives for Catholic health care services (6th ed.). USCCB.