News coverage casts doubt on organ donation

News coverage of several hospitals’ use of non-heartbeating donors for transplantation has renewed concerns about this procedure. Reports such as the one CBS’ 60 Minutes broadcast in mid-April point out the need for ethics committees to renew institutional policies and procedures to alleviate these concerns. (See in-depth coverage of safeguards and policies on non-heartbeating donor recovery, Medical Ethics Advisor, April 1995, p. 45.)

The Richmond-VA based United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), the national organ procurement organization, issued a statement on non-heartbeating protocols following the CBS report. "In any discussion of this issue it is vital to remember two fundamental points:

• All donors have been declared dead, by a physician or surgeon not affiliated with a transplant team, before surgical recovery of organs occurs.

• All organ recovery occurs with the informed consent of the donor family."

UNOS communications director Joel Newman tells MEA that state laws regarding the declaration of death recognize both cardiac death and brain death and that all organ donors were declared dead using cardiac criteria prior to 1968, when brain death criteria were first used as a standard.