"Non-Heart-Beating," or "Cardiac Death," Organ Donation: Why We Should Care

Mohamed Y. Rady, MD, PhD, FRCS (Eng.), FRCP (UK), FCCM; Joseph L. Verheijde, PhD, MBA; Joan McGregor, PhD


Journal of Hospital Medicine. 2007;2(5):324-334. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction

Background: Organ donation after cessation of cardiac pump activity is referred to as non-heart-beating organ donation (NHBOD). NHBOD donors can be neurologically intact; they do not fulfill the brain death criteria prior to cessation of cardiac pump activity. For hospitals to participate in NHBOD, they must comply with a newly introduced federal requirement for ICU patients whose deaths are considered imminent after withdrawal of life support. This report describes issues related to NHBOD.
Methods: A nonstructured review of selected publications and Web sites was undertaken.
Results: Scientific evidence from autoresuscitation and extracorporeal perfusion suggests that verifying cardiorespiratory arrest lasting 2-5 minutes does not uniformly comply with the dead donor rule, so that the process of organ procurement can be the irreversible event defining death in organ donors. The interest of organ procurement organizations and affiliates in maximizing recovery of transplantable organs introduces self-serving bias in gaining consent for organ donation and abandons the basic tenet of obtaining true informed consent. The impact of donor management and procurement protocols on end-of-life (EOL) care and the potential trade-off are not disclosed, raising concern about whether potential donors and their families are fully informed before consenting to donation.
Conclusions: The use of comprehensive quality indicators for EOL care can determine the impact of NHBOD on care offered to donors and the effects on families and health care providers. Detailed evaluation of NHBOD will enable thepublic to make informed decisions about participating in this type of organ donation.

In April 2003 the Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) announced the formation of the Organ Donation Breakthrough Collaborative (ODBC).[1] The Organ Donation Breakthrough Collaborative created 58 national donation service areas (DSAs) to organize the transplant community across the United States. Each of the 58 organ procurement organizations (OPOs) is joined to a regional transplant center or centers and donor hospitals to form a DSA. The ODBC's goal is to achieve a cadaveric organ donation rate of 75% or higher from hospitals within each DSA.[2]

A requirement for organ donation from patients facing imminent or cardiac death has been introduced to increase the supply of transplantable organs and shorten the waiting time for transplantation candidates.[3–5] This type of organ donation represents a significant source of organs required for future expansion of trans plantation practice in the United States. The requirement for donation in imminent or cardiac death is implemented through the collaboration of the Advisory Committee on Organ Transplantation of the DHHS ( Table 1 ), the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), and the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO).[3,5–7] The organ donor pool of those facing imminent or cardiac death has also been expanded to include neurologically intact patients who may not fulfill brain death criteria before withdrawal of life support.[4,8,9]

The President's Council on Bioethics independently evaluated the issues surrounding deceased organ donation and procurement.[10] The President's Council on Bioethics has expressed major concerns about several issues pertinent to cardiac or imminent death organ donation that have not been addressed explicitly by the bodies that have made recommendations for reforming or expanding that type of organ donation in the United States. The debate on organ procurement in imminent or cardiac death has come to the forefront because of doubts about its ethical appropriateness and acceptance within the medical profession and the community at large. This review focuses on the serious issues related to organ procurement from patients facing imminent or cardiac death.


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