Saturday, January 16, 2010

The fuzzy frontier of death

7 January 2010 | Michael Cook

Since trends normally begin in the New York Times, an article about organ donation on December 16 may signal a move towards redefining death to maximize the number of available organs. Darshak Sanghavi, the chief of pediatric cardiology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and Slate’s health care columnist, highlights the shortage of organs – 18 people die every day because they can’t get an organ – and the "inherently arbitrary" moment of death.

The thrust of Dr Sanghavi’s excellent overview of the ethical dilemmas in organ donation is that the protocols governing donation after cardiac death (DCD) need to be loosened. He contends that there are too few brain-dead organ donors to shorten the ever-lengthening waiting list. DCD donors, on the other hand, are far more numerous.

On the whole, DCD has had a slow uptake in American hospitals since it was endorsed by the Institute of Medicine in 1997. This body established that exactly 5 minutes should elapse after the heart stops beating before death can be declared and organs removed. Full article.

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