Guild member recalls breakthrough medical procedure

BRIGHTON -- In performing the first-ever successful kidney transplant in 1954, Joseph Murray followed his own instinct, only after seeking consultation on the ethics and morality of the matter that was before him.

Murray, who is a member of the Guild of St. Luke, an organization of Catholic physicians in the Archdiocese of Boston, spoke with the Pilot about his historic accomplishment at the Guild of St. Luke’s White Mass and dinner Oct. 16 at St. John’s Seminary.

Murray recalled his instinct telling him to pursue the transplant, despite those who said the endeavor would fail.

“I was warned by my superiors -- don’t get involved in the research because it would not be successful,” Murray said. “It seemed worthwhile instinctively.”

Before performing the transplant, however, Murray consulted with a Catholic priest.

“When you take out an organ in a healthy person to help somebody else, you’re doing things that we in the medical profession were taught never to harm,” Murray said. “We were certainly doing harm to the donor.”

Murray recalled the response he received from his priest.

“He was encouraging because he felt we had proper motivation,” Murray said. “This led to a whole redefinition of death.”

His historic medical accomplishment took place on Dec. 23, 1954. The transplant was performed on a set of identical twins.

Murray, 90, said he always wanted to be a doctor.

“When the family doctor came to take care of our colds, I felt an inner peace come over the household,” Murray recalled.

Murray was born in 1919 and grew up in Milford. He attended Milford High School and was a “pretty good schoolboy athlete,” playing football, baseball, and hockey. He attended Holy Cross College and Harvard Medical School.

In 2001 he published his autobiography, entitled “Surgery of the Soul: Reflections On a Curious Career.”

“I always wanted to be a surgeon,” he continued. “It was decisive. You could get results immediately. It combined humanity with science.”