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  • Jack Ringel

Is Organ Donation Euthanasia Ethical?

Updated: Mar 4

Every day, 17 people across the world die waiting for a life-saving organ transplant. In fact, there are currently more than 100,000 people waiting for an organ donation in the United States alone (1). Organ Donation Euthanasia (ODE) seems to be a possible solution that could help provide more suitable organs for transplantation. ODE involves performing an organ extraction of a terminally ill anesthetized patient (2). This process may increase the quality and quantity of organs available for donation. However, there is an important ethical consideration surrounding this process. Unlike traditional euthanasia, the terminally ill patient does not die due to purposefully administered drugs, but rather as a result of the removal of organs to be donated. Given that this process saves a life at the expense of another, is Organ Donation Euthanasia ethical? 


According to The Uniform Determination of Death Act of 1980, “an individual who has sustained either irreversible cessation of circulatory or respiratory functions, or irreversible cessation of all functions of the brain, including the brain stem, is dead” and can therefore be an organ donor (3). However, purposely causing a patient's death for the purpose of organ donation would be considered euthanasia, which is illegal throughout the United States, according to the Dead Donor Rule (4). 

Advocates for ODE argue that terminally-ill individuals have a right to determine how their life will end and whether that includes through an organ donation. However, gaining informed consent in this situation would be extremely difficult as these individuals would face many external pressures that may bias heir ability to make truly autonomous decisions. Other ethical considerations include the role of the medical professional in the decision process. Medicine has traditionally used The Hippocratic Oath to guide ethical dilemmas. This oath explains that physicians should only give beneficial and life-saving treatments and not cause harm or damage (5). Therefore, asking physicians to knowingly speed up the death of a patient for organ donation purposes may create internal conflict for the physician.  

Ultimately, proponents of ODE believe that when a terminally ill patient's quality of life is severely compromised, providing them a way to die peacefully while saving another life would be justified. However, those against ODE believe that this is a form of devaluing a person who still has the potential to live longer. One thing is certain: this debate will continue for years to come. 


Reviewed By: Vishruth Hanumaihgari Designed by: Alejandra Gonzalez-Acosta


Citations

  1. Bollen, Jan. "Organ Donation Euthanasia (ode): Performing Euthanasia through Living Organ Donation." Transplantation, Dec. 2020, journals.lww.com/transplantjournal/fulltext/2020/09003/organ_donation_euthanasia__ode___performing.440.aspx#:~:text=We%20have%20called%20this%20%27organ,out%2C%20which%20then%20causes%20death. Accessed 23 Feb. 2024.

  2. Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. "Hippocratic oath." Encyclopedia Britannica, 5 Dec. 2023, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Hippocratic-oath. Accessed 23 Feb. 2024.

  3. "Ethical Considerations of Imminent Death Donation White Paper." Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, Dec. 2016, optn.transplant.hrsa.gov/professionals/by-topic/ethical-considerations/ ethical-considerations-of-imminent-death-donation-white-paper/ #:~:text=The%20dead%20donor%20rule%20is,the%20death%20of%20the%20donor. Accessed 23 Feb. 2024. 

  4. "Fast Facts: January – March 2023." Life Source, 18 Apr. 2023, 

     www.life-source.org/latest/fast-facts/. Accessed 23 Feb. 2024

5. "Organ Donation and Transplantation Legislation History." Health Resource and 

Service Administration, Fast Facts: January – March 2023. Accessed 23 Feb. 2024.



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