Presumed consent for organ preservation in uncontrolled donation after cardiac death in the United States: A public policy with serious consequences

Joseph L. Verheijde, Mohamed Y. Rady, Joan McGregor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

20 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Organ donation after cessation of circulation and respiration, both controlled and uncontrolled, has been proposed by the Institute of Medicine as a way to increase opportunities for organ procurement. Despite claims to the contrary, both forms of controlled and uncontrolled donation after cardiac death raise significant ethical and legal issues. Identified causes for concern include absence of agreement on criteria for the declaration of death, nonexistence of universal guidelines for duration before stopping resuscitation efforts and techniques, and assumption of presumed intent to donate for the purpose of initiating temporary organ-preservation interventions when no expressed consent to donate is present. From a legal point of view, not having scientifically valid criteria of cessation of circulation and respiration for declaring death could lead to a conclusion that organ procurement itself is the proximate cause of death. Although the revised Uniform Anatomical Gift Act of 2006 provides broad immunity to those involved in organ-procurement activities, courts have yet to provide an opinion on whether persons can be held liable for injuries arising from the determination of death itself. Preserving organs in uncontrolled donation after cardiac death requires the administration of life-support systems such as extracorporeal membrane oxygenation. These life-support systems can lead to return of signs of life that, in turn, have to be deliberately suppressed by the administration of pharmacological agents. Finally, allowing temporary organ-preservation interventions without expressed consent is inherently a violation of the principle of respect for a person's autonomy. Proponents of organ donation from uncontrolled donation after cardiac death, on the other hand, claim that these nonconsensual interventions enhance respect for autonomy by allowing people, through surrogate decision making, to execute their right to donate organs. However, the lack of transparency and the absence of protection of individual autonomy, for the sake of maximizing procurement opportunities, have placed the current organ-donation system of opting-in in great jeopardy. Equally as important, current policies enabling and enhancing organ procurement practices, pose challenges to the constitutional rights of individuals in a pluralistic society as these policies are founded on flawed medical standards for declaring death.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1747
Pages (from-to)15
Number of pages1
JournalPhilosophy, Ethics, and Humanities in Medicine
Volume4
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 22 2009

Fingerprint

Presumed Consent
Organ Preservation
Tissue and Organ Procurement
Public Policy
Life Support Systems
Respiration
Gift Giving
Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation
National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (U.S.) Health and Medicine Division
Organs
Consent
Donation
Resuscitation
Ethics
Cause of Death
Immunity
Decision Making
Pharmacology
Guidelines
Procurement

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy
  • History and Philosophy of Science
  • Issues, ethics and legal aspects
  • Medicine(all)

Cite this

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title = "Presumed consent for organ preservation in uncontrolled donation after cardiac death in the United States: A public policy with serious consequences",
abstract = "Organ donation after cessation of circulation and respiration, both controlled and uncontrolled, has been proposed by the Institute of Medicine as a way to increase opportunities for organ procurement. Despite claims to the contrary, both forms of controlled and uncontrolled donation after cardiac death raise significant ethical and legal issues. Identified causes for concern include absence of agreement on criteria for the declaration of death, nonexistence of universal guidelines for duration before stopping resuscitation efforts and techniques, and assumption of presumed intent to donate for the purpose of initiating temporary organ-preservation interventions when no expressed consent to donate is present. From a legal point of view, not having scientifically valid criteria of cessation of circulation and respiration for declaring death could lead to a conclusion that organ procurement itself is the proximate cause of death. Although the revised Uniform Anatomical Gift Act of 2006 provides broad immunity to those involved in organ-procurement activities, courts have yet to provide an opinion on whether persons can be held liable for injuries arising from the determination of death itself. Preserving organs in uncontrolled donation after cardiac death requires the administration of life-support systems such as extracorporeal membrane oxygenation. These life-support systems can lead to return of signs of life that, in turn, have to be deliberately suppressed by the administration of pharmacological agents. Finally, allowing temporary organ-preservation interventions without expressed consent is inherently a violation of the principle of respect for a person's autonomy. Proponents of organ donation from uncontrolled donation after cardiac death, on the other hand, claim that these nonconsensual interventions enhance respect for autonomy by allowing people, through surrogate decision making, to execute their right to donate organs. However, the lack of transparency and the absence of protection of individual autonomy, for the sake of maximizing procurement opportunities, have placed the current organ-donation system of opting-in in great jeopardy. Equally as important, current policies enabling and enhancing organ procurement practices, pose challenges to the constitutional rights of individuals in a pluralistic society as these policies are founded on flawed medical standards for declaring death.",
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