Thursday, August 14, 2008

Organ Donation After Cardiac Death

An article from the Associated Press yesterday discusses a new controversy in the field of medicine – when to declare a person dead for the purposes of organ donation. This comes about after three newborns that had been placed on life support, but not yet meeting the legal criteria for going forth in harvesting their organs, were taken off of life support measures in order to allow for organ donations to other babies.

The standard for declaring somebody dead for the purpose of organ donation has been that the person no longer has any working brain functions. However, in the case of these newborns, they continued to exhibit brain functions, albeit minimal. Instead of using the brain functioning standard, the doctors in this case were able to harvest organs under a procedure known as donation after cardiac death.

Many organizations, including the federal government, are encouraging this type of donation. Instead of requiring a child to exhibit total lack of brain functioning while donees in dire need of these organs to allow them to continue living wait, this procedure allows families the option to donate and creates a larger supply of needed organs.

One of the biggest criticisms of this procedure centers on the fact that it involves children. The other major criticism is the fact that many claim that this donation process violates laws governing when organs may be harvested. In the case of the newborns, the doctors quickly transplanted organs soon after the life supporting measures were removed. It has been argued that the doctors did not wait long enough as they performed the transplants before the donor was declared dead, and the fact that the hearts could be restarted indicates that these donors could not have legally been pronounced dead as they had lost neither total heart nor total brain functioning.

It is understandable that many argue for the protection of children, especially newborns. For some, it is much harder to accept procedures such as these as the newborns in this instance obviously had no choice in the matter and were alive by medical standards. With modern medicine, many believe that more can and should be done in these cases rather than use these children as donors.

However, in these cases the parents were given free will and as legal guardians they have to make the best choice for their child. It cannot be easy to make such decisions, but in doing so these parents had the opportunity to save the lives of three other children. Had they waited for their child to lose all brain function, it is uncertain what the status would have been on the three children that received the donated hearts. The donors’ hearts may have deteriorated beyond medical use, and the three donees may have not had the chance to receive the hearts. From the article, it seems certain that death was imminent for the three donor children, and by allowing the parents to make this decision they were able to help out other families that may have not been able to wait.

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