April 20, 2024


Rob Stein, of the Washington Post, is one of the most experienced science reporters in the US. So it was a bit unsettling to read his “exclusive” on possible changes to the criteria for organ donation. The group responsible for allocating organs in the US, United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), wants to increase the supply of organs. One avenue is increasing the number of “donations after cardiac death” which currently constitute about 6% of donated organs. (See article below.)

One suggestion, Stein wrote, is dropping the guideline of waiting between two and five minutes after cessation of heartbeat before removing organs. This frightens many people. Some of the scores of comments beneath his article are instructive:

  • “These ghouls must be stopped.”
  • “If the proposed changes occur, I will change my driver’s license to reflect that I am not willing to donate under those circumstances.”
  • “This will really make me reconsider changing my status as an organ donor. Don’t do this!!”

UNOS appears to have failed badly in communicating with the public. My understanding has always been that surgeons must wait at least two minutes. But a UNOS spokesman clarified after the publication of Stein’s article  that “UNOS has always left the determination of these wait times up to the judgment of individual hospitals”. In other words, nearly everyone has been mistaken in thinking that the two-minute wait is mandatory. If organ donations dip after Stein’s article, UNOS has only itself to blame.

But I admit that I am no expert – what do you think?

Michael Cook