July 2, 2022

Time to ditch the dead donor rule, says Savulescu

As long as patients consent beforehand
As BioEdge reported last week, an Australian doctor has claimed that many organ donors are not really dead. This means that some transplant surgeons may be breaking the “dead donor rule” which stipulates that patients must have expired before their vital organs are harvested. These sensational allegations were angrily denied by other doctors.

However, Oxford professor Julian Savulescu and his colleague Dominic Wilkinson, think this could be a jolly good thing. Writing in the “Practical Ethics” blog, they contend that people should be given the chance to donate their organs before they die: “It would fail to respect their autonomy and wishes if we did not take their organs, if they had explicitly requested it.”

Definitions of the exact time of death vary from country to country and it is constantly being gerrymandered to maximize the availability of organs, they argue. Would it not be better to abandon the dead donor rule and “allow organs to be taken from people who are not brain dead, but who have suffered such severe injury that they would be permanently unconscious, like Terry Schiavo, who would be allowed to die anyway by removal of their medical treatment.”

Not allowing our organs to be harvested to save or improve the lives of several other people, they contend, “is among the greatest moral failures of our lives”. ~ Practical Ethics, Oct 24

Julian Savulescu