Man Alexandre, transplant surgeon who noticed demise in a different way, dies at 89


In early June 1963, a affected person with huge head trauma was rushed to a hospital in Belgium after a automobile crash. Surgical procedure was carried out. But the accidents have been so extreme that docs declared the affected person “brain-dead” — totally unresponsive however with a still-beating coronary heart.

In one other ward of the hospital, a affected person was fighting kidney failure and in pressing want of a transplant.

A physician simply again from a fellowship in Boston, Man Alexandre, went to the hospital’s head of surgical procedure with an unprecedented request. Take the kidneys from the crash sufferer whereas the affected person’s coronary heart was nonetheless functioning, he appealed. This would cut back the organic breakdown that happens in organs after even a couple of minutes with out oxygen.

The chief of surgical procedure, Jean Morelle, made “an important resolution of his profession” and authorized the process, mentioned Dr. Alexandre, who died Feb. 14 at his dwelling in Brussels at 89.

The transplant, carried out on June 3, 1963, would finally usher in a metamorphosis in medical ethics, difficult perceptions of demise and testing the boundaries of a basic precept of medication, “do no hurt.”

However first, Dr. Alexandre confronted a torrent of questions and recriminations that put his status and profession on the road. Dr. Alexandre stood agency. He famous that the affected person who acquired the transplant kidney lived one other 87 days, which was thought-about a big end result at a time when transplant science was nonetheless growing.

He additionally described the physicians who accused him of homicide as hypocrites. “They seen their brain-dead sufferers as alive,” he mentioned in a 2019 interview with Pill journal, “but they’d no qualms about turning off the ventilator to get the center to cease beating earlier than they eliminated kidneys.”

In the long run, Dr. Alexandre’s views prevailed. By the late Nineteen Sixties, he had the assist of influential medical societies. At the moment, docs are thought-about inside moral grounds to take away transplant organs from sufferers who show Dr. Alexandre’s five-point standards for figuring out what he referred to as “mind demise.” They embody no reflexes or responses to ache, a flat electroencephalogram (EEG) and incapacity for autonomous respiratory.

When Dr. Alexandre was given the approval for the primary “brain-dead” transplant in 1963, the hospital didn’t contact the affected person’s household for permission. “In case you would have requested that, we’d have [been] refused,” he mentioned in a 2018 interview. He justified the choice by saying it was “self-evident” the affected person had no probability of recovering.

‘‘In Belgium, the coroner was allowed to carry out an post-mortem and take away and study organs with out permission from — and even over the objection of — the household,” he as soon as mentioned. “So shouldn’t a surgeon be allowed to take an organ out of a lifeless physique, equally with out the permission of the household to be able to save one other affected person’s life?”

The household of the donor was informed the affected person died throughout the evening. Dr. Alexandre carried out eight different related transplant procedures over the following two years. In 1965, he was invited to London for a medical convention on transplant ethics. He embraced the position of lead provocateur.

He requested why a heartbeat was thought-about the one definition of life, asserting that mind exercise is an equally related measure. He informed the convention that he was “taking organs from a lifeless particular person,” holding the identical moral customary as every other doctor. He used the phrase “heart-beating cadaver.”

Some docs on the convention have been aghast and raised situations akin to circumstances of barbiturate overdose by which a affected person had a flat EEG however then recovered. Dr. Alexandre countered that the EEG was simply one of many 5 metrics he used to declare a affected person “brain-dead.” He left London showing to have swayed some docs and hospital directors to contemplate his aspect, however critics remained.

Thomas Starzl, an American transplant surgeon on the convention, vowed that no member of his staff would take into account a affected person “lifeless so long as there was a heartbeat.” Close to the tip of the gathering, attendees have been requested to point out who backed Dr. Alexandre’s definition of “mind demise.”

“I used to be the one one to lift my hand,” Dr. Alexandre recalled. “All of the others didn’t.”

Nonetheless, Dr. Alexandre helped stir debate on a “new strategy to the definition of demise,” Calixto Machado, a Cuban researcher in neurosurgery, wrote within the July 2005 subject of the journal Neurology.

In December 1967, South African surgeon Christiaan Barnard carried out the primary coronary heart transplant from a donor who had been declared “brain-dead.” The following 12 months, the idea of utilizing neurological standards to find out demise was supported by the Harvard Advert Hoc Committee and the World Medical Meeting.

Man Pierre Jean Alexandre was born on July 4, 1934, within the Brussels suburb of Uccle. His father labored in authorities administration, and his mom was an govt assistant.

Dr. Alexandre accomplished his medical research in 1959 on the College of Louvain, the place he acquired further coaching as a transplant surgeon. In 1961, he was granted a Harvard College fellowship, and studied state-of-the-art transplant procedures at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital (now a part of Brigham and Girls’s Hospital), one in every of Harvard’s educating hospitals and the place the primary kidney transplant passed off in 1954.

Dr. Alexandre labored below Joseph E. Murray, who shared the 1990 Nobel Prize in physiology or drugs for advances in transplant surgical procedure. Throughout one kidney transplant by Murray, Dr. Alexandre was invited into the working room. He seen that the donor kidney was barely broken by the shortage of oxygen after the respirator was turned off, ready for the affected person’s coronary heart to cease.

Already, Dr. Alexandre was aware of the idea of coma dépassé, actually “past coma,” which had been utilized by francophone docs for the reason that late Nineteen Fifties.

“[The doctors in Boston] seen their brain-dead sufferers as alive, but they’d no qualms about turning off the ventilator to get the center to cease beating earlier than they eliminated kidneys,” Dr. Alexandre recounted. “Along with ‘killing’ the affected person, they have been giving the recipients broken kidneys.”

Dr. Alexandre returned to Belgium in 1963 to turn into a professor on the College of Louvain and transplant specialist at related hospitals. In the course of the Nineteen Eighties, he developed strategies to assist enable transplants between individuals with incompatible blood sorts, and carried out one of many first profitable interspecies transplants, generally known as xenotransplants, inserting a pig kidney in a baboon.

His spouse of 65 years, Eliane Moens, died in October. Survivors embody 5 kids; 17 grandchildren; and 13 great-grandchildren. His son Xavier Alexandre confirmed the demise however didn’t be aware a trigger.

Dr. Alexandre was as soon as requested whether or not he thought the early resistance to his concepts was ingrained by artwork and tradition, which lengthy described the center as the house of emotion and feeling. He seemed to his Catholic religion and his perception in a soul that lives on.

“We all know that we’re mud,” he mentioned. “And you are taking organs from a affected person, from a corpse, so you are taking slightly little bit of that mud.”



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