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Death by Journalism

On behalf of the over 1600 members of Facebook’s Organ Transplant Initiative and my Blog, Bob’s Newheart on WordPress, I am lodging a very strong objection to Dick Terisi’s inaccurate and life-endangering  column in the Wall Street Journal,  “What You Lose When You Sign that Donor Card.”  Not only should Mr. Terisi retract his irresponsible words he should also issue an immediate public apology to everyone on the national transplant list and their families.

Recently a hack journalist, Dick Terisi, published a column in the Wall Street Journal suggesting that American physicians were killing patients in order to extract their organs for transplant.  This irresponsible attack on a system that has saved thousands of lives and will save thousands more is worse than bad journalism it can only be termed what it is – death  by journalism, because there will be people who will refuse to become organ donors as a result.

I am a heart transplant recipient who knows the desperation felt by being on “the list.”  I can only imagine the emotional trauma Mr.Terisi caused with his reckless disregard for truth and lack of compassion for the dying and the loved ones who care for them.  He has also insulted the professional and personal integrity of every medical professional in the nation, but I’ll not take up their defense.  I’m sure they will rise to the occasion.

There are over 113,000 people on the aforementioned list but fewer than 30,000 transplants are done each year in the United States because of the shortage of organs.  That means that thousands die while waiting.  Mr. Terisi’s inaccurate portrayal of the donation system is based on “junk” science, anecdotal information and an “off the cuff” remark by a single physician.  It ensures that even more people will die because some readers will believe his distortions and either not become organ and tissue donors or change their existing designation to non-donor.

I know that others in the transplant community are preparing point by point responses to Terisi’s ravings so I’ll just touch on one – brain death. He told a simple lie so here’s the simple truth.

According to the American Academy of Neurology, brain death is defined as the irreversible loss of function of the brain, including the brain stem. The most common causes of brain death in adults are traumatic brain injury and subarachnoid hemorrhage (a form of stroke)   The guidelines for determining brain death were written by a team of experts lead by  Eelco F. Wijdicks, M.D., Ph.D. from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.  Dr.  Wijdicks is considered the preeminent expert on brain death in the world – and he says, “The brain death diagnosis can be made only after a comprehensive clinical evaluation that often involves more than 25 separate assessments.”  These assessments must be done by highly qualified physicians.

OK…I’ve given you the simple truth now here’s a detailed  explanation as printed in Critical Care Nurse which is a far cry from the simple almost cavalier approach suggested by non-physician, non-medical expert, non-donor and self proclaimed, “heartless, selfish bastard” Dick Terisi.

“Current standards for making a diagnosis of brain death require (1) identification of the suspected cause of the coma, (2) determination that the coma is irreversible, (3) performance of a clinical examination, and (4) interpretation of appropriate neurodiagnostic and laboratory tests.1 Identification of the cause of coma is based on the patient’s history and the results of neurodiagnostic tests such as computed tomographic scans. Common causes of brain death detected on computed tomographic scans include brain masses with or without herniation and edema.1 In determining the cause of the coma, conditions that could confound the clinical assessment must also be ruled out, such as hypothermia, hypotension, severe acid-base abnormalities, drug or alcohol intoxication, sedation, and neuromuscular blockade.

The next step in diagnosing brain death is performing a directed, clinical examination. According to the American Academy of Neurology,2 each criterion of the clinical examination should be satisfied on 2 separate occasions. The length of time between examinations has not been defined and varies depending on the cause of the coma. The American Academy of Neurology2 has suggested that a 6-hour interval between examinations is reasonable; others1 have recommended a period of up to 48 hours in instances in which unknown toxins may be responsible for the coma. In addition, 2 conditions must be met before the clinical examination is conducted: the patient’s blood pressure should be greater than 90 mm Hg, and the patient’s body temperature should be greater than 32°C (90°F).

The clinical examination includes an evaluation of overall responsiveness, brain-stem reflexes, and apnea testing. The patient should be deeply comatose, with no response to painful or verbal stimuli, including decorticate or decerebrate posturing. He or she should also have no spontaneous movement, including shivering, seizures, or respiratory movement. The single exception is movement resulting from spinal reflexes. The assessment of responsiveness and movement requires that the effects of all neuromuscular blocking agents and sedatives have worn off completely.”

Mr. Terisi’s column is bad enough but the Wall Street Journal cannot be absolved of blame.  Terisi would have had a far smaller audience and a minimized effect had the Wall Street Journal used sound journalistic judgment and trashed this extremely shoddy piece of journalism.  WSJ ought to join Terisi in the public apology I called for earlier but I expect neither to do so because that takes “class” and integrity — commodities which neither seem to possess.

Lodge your protest at Wall Street Journal Contact:
1-800-JOURNAL (1-800-568-7625)
Outside the U.S.:1-609-514-0870
Monday – Friday: 7am to 10pm ET
Saturday: 8am to 3pm ET

You may comment in the space provided or email your thoughts to me at And – please spread the word about the immediate need for more organ donors. There is nothing you can do that is of greater importance. If you convince one person to be an organ and tissue donor you may save or positively affect over 60 lives. Some of those lives may be people you know and love.
Please view our video “Thank You From the Bottom of my Donor’s heart” on This video was produced to promote organ donation so it is free and no permission is needed for its use.
Also…there is more information on this blog site about other donation/transplantation issues. Additionally we would love to have you join our Facebook group, Organ Transplant Initiative The more members we get the greater our clout with decision makers.

Bob Aronson

Heart Transplant recipient

Jacksonville, Florida

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