Defining Death in Non-Heart Beating Organ Donors
Journal of Medical Ethics 2003 June; 29(3): 182-185
Protocols for retrieving vital organs in consenting patients in cardiovascular arrest (non-heart beating donors, NHBD) rest on the assumptions that irreversible asystole a) identifies the instant of biological death, and b) is clinically assessable at the time when retrieval of vital organs is possible. Unfortunately both assumptions are flawed. We argue that traditional life/death definitions could be actually inadequate to represent the reality of dying under intensive support, and we suggest redefining NHBD protocols on moral, social, and anthropological criteria, admitting that irreversible (however defined) asystole can only equate a clinically determinable point of no return in the process of dying, where organ retrieval can be morally and socially accepted in previously consenting patients.
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