Thursday, April 7, 2011

Donation after cardiac death

When are you dead? An article in Stanford Medicine explores the question, which becomes pointed when the subject is deceased organ donation. The standard criterion in the U.S. is brain death, but of course irreversible cessation of heartbeat is an older standard. The trouble is that organs have to be preserved fast after cardiac death, unlike the case of a brain dead patient on a ventilator.

So there are obstacles to donation after cardiac death (DCD). Most of the discussion of restricting organ donation to brain dead patients focuses on the desperately needed organs that are made unavailable to the patients who need them. So I was struck by this view from another angle, by Nikole Neidlinger, MD, the medical director of the California Donor Transplant Network.

A lot of people think that it’s all about the organ recipient, but really, I think, the donors’ families get the biggest benefit,” Neidlinger says. “They have spent perhaps weeks dealing with the hardship of seeing loved ones on life support and coming to terms with their death. And the fact that the donor gets a chance to help another person live — it’s a legacy that counts so much for families.”

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