Ethics of Organ Transplants

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An organ transplant is the moving of a whole or partial organ from one body to another for the purpose of replacing the recipient’s failing or damaged organ. Organ donors can be living or deceased. The sources of organ transplants can be from individuals over the age of 18 who indicate their desire to be an organ donor by signing a donor card or telling their family members. Relatives can also donate a deceased family member’s organs and tissues even if the family member is under the age of 18. If you are under the age of 18, you can donate your organs with the consent of an adult who legally responsible for you and the adult or adults should witness your signature on the donor card.

Organs that can be donated are kidneys, heart, liver, lungs, and pancreas. Tissues that can be donated are corneas, skin, bone, middle-ear bones, bone marrow, connective tissues, and blood vessels.

Donation of a heart, liver, lungs, pancreas, or heart/lung can only occur in the case of brain death. The donation of tissues such as bone, skin, or corneas can occur regardless of age and in almost any cause of death. This of course causes ethical issues because each family has a different view of when a family member is considered brain dead. Even if a doctor pronounces the family member brain dead, it is a personal choice for the family and usually depends on religion and personal choice to decide when their loved one is considered brain dead and then the organs can be retrieved.

The steps a hospital takes in choosing a recipient for an organ transplant is a potential donor and the next-of-kin of the potential donor must be notified of the opportunity to donate their family member’s organs and/or tissues and must give their permission. An Organ Procurement Organization is contacted to help determine the organ acceptability, get the family’s permission, and match the donor with the most appropriate recipient or recipients. Once the consent is given, a search is...
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