The reassurance was prompted because of an article by one Dr Tibballs, who has caused a little angst in the medical profession by suggesting that being 'dead' might be a continuum with a tad too much flexibility when it comes to harvesting organs.
Donors not truly "dead" when organs removed
"Dr Tibballs, a pediatric intensive care specialist at the Royal Children's Hospital, said this week that most organ donors in Australia were not truly dead when their organs were taken and that often transplant procedures did not conform with the law.
In a controversial article, published in the Journal of Law Medicine, Dr Tibballs said clinical practice clashed with the law, which says organs can be taken from a donor when they have either irreversible cessation of all functions of their brain or irreversible cessation of blood circulation.
He said guidelines used to diagnose brain death and cardiac death (cessation of blood circulation) could not prove irreversible cessation and that some interventions to ensure the viability of organs could actually harm or cause the death of a donor. "The question of when is it permissible to retrieve organs is now phrased not in terms of whether death is present or not, but rather 'how dead is enough'," he said.
Dr Tibballs said clinical guidelines commonly used to diagnose brain death could not prove irreversible cessation of all brain function, and that the concept of brain death introduced into Australian law in 1977 was a "convenient fiction" that had allowed the development of organ transplantation.
Dr Tibballs also argued that when organs were taken after cardiac death (defined as the absence of blood circulation) it was usually done when the heart failed to restart itself for two minutes, not when proven "irreversible cessation" of its function had occurred.
This two-minute time limit was set partly because there is a limited time for organs to remain viable when someone is dying, he said.
Furthermore, Dr Tibballs said some interventions to ensure the viability of organs could actually harm or cause the death of the donor.
Despite donors being told by government organisations that they will be "brain dead" when their organs are taken, Dr Tibballs said donors were usually very close to death with no chance of survival during organ procurement."
Canberra rejects organs review call