April 21, 2024


A growing shortage of organs for transplant in the United States has prompted allegations that attempts to get organs from dying patients are too aggressive. The most scandalous case happened last year in San Luis Obispo, California, when an overzealous surgeon may have overstepped the line between waiting until the donor, a disabled 25-year-old man, died, and deliberately hastening his death.

The president of the Association of Organ Procurement Organizations (OPOs), Thomas Mone, insists that this case was an aberration. However, doctors, nurses, and others say that they have noticed a growing pressure to supply organs since 2003, when the Federal government launched a campaign to maximise the supply of organs from deceased donors. The employees of the OPOs work with hospitals to identify potential donors.

Some bioethicists are critical of how the OPOs work. “It’s like they’re vultures flying around the hospitals hovering over beds waiting for them to die so they can grab the organs,” says Michael Grodin, of Boston University.

And bioethicist Daniel O. Dugan told the Washington Post: “In some places, the organ-procurement folks will actually go into the room and meet the family and wear scrubs that are the same colour as the hospital personnel and allow themselves to be experienced by the family as being members of the hospital staff… They will introduce themselves and build a kind of rapport when actually their whole agenda is organ procurement.”

Apparently OPO representatives are trained to persuade families to donate the organs of family members by describing dying patients who are desperate for organs. They also adopt a “presumptive” approach which assumes that the family would like to donate.