Donor Kidneys Represent 1% of All Deaths: Should We Be Able to Snatch Life from the Jaws of Death?

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Even if people register as organ donors upon death, chances are they will never be an actual donor because they died from an illness or an accident that left their organs too damaged for anyone else to use. Typically an organ donor is brain dead and on a ventilator, which is only about 1% of all deaths. Organ donors need to be on life support so the blood and oxygen is still getting to their organs. These are usually people who die of head injuries resulting from such events as car accidents, gunshot wounds, swimming pool accidents or child abuse, and they're on life support.

A policy known as the dead donor rule is the main ethical and legal standard for organ transplants, except in the case of living donations. This rule states that a person must be declared dead before a doctor may harvest their organs for transplantation. However, the debate lies in when a person is considered dead. There are two general definitions of death. These include the absence of breathing and pulse and the stopping of brain function. The dead donor rule has increased the number of organs available for transplant, but has a number of limitations, including the need to wait until the heart stops.

The severe shortage of viable organs for transplantation in the U.S. has led some transplant surgeon professionals to propose harvesting kidneys from people who are not considered "dead" yet. Under current protocols patients undergoing an orchestrated withdrawal of life support are pronounced dead after 2 to 5 minutes. Because of the waiting time approximately one-third of potential donors end up not being able to donate, and many organs, especially kidneys, become nonviable as a result.

Instead some argue to conduct kidney removal from patients with severe irreversible brain injury, whose families consent, before their cardiac and respiratory systems stop functioning. Removing both kidneys will not make the donor worse off than s/he would have been before their surgery. Afterward the donor would be kept comfortable until death.

Still some contend that removing one kidney could be legally defensible, but removing both would almost certainly be deemed unlawful under the current legal framework. However, it is suggested that no harm or wrong doing is committed by procuring vital organs, such as both kidneys, prior to stopping life support, provided that valid consent is obtained for donation. Also, with new provisions, families will be allowed to grieve in peace, since surgeons would not need to rush the body of their love one into the operating room to remove organs before they are no longer usable. Many find that a revised protocol of the dead donor rule would ultimately respect the desires of those who wish to donate organs, and has the potential to maximize the number and quality of organs available to those in need.


"Experts Debate Best Way to Encourage More Organ Donors." USA Today

CAROLLO, KIM. "Surgeon: Remove Kidneys for Transplant Before Donor's Death." ABC News. ABC News Network

"Medical Tourism." Legal And Ethical Issues Of Organ Transplants

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