Donation of nonvital organs and tissue from living donors can increase the supply of organs available for transplantation, to the benefit of patients with end-stage organ failure. Enabling individuals to donate nonvital organs is in keeping with the goals of treating illness and relieving suffering so long as the benefits to both donor and recipient outweigh the risks to both.
Physicians should support innovative approaches to increasing the supply of organs for transplantation but must balance this obligation with their duty to protect the interests of their individual patients. Organ donation after cardiac death is one approach being undertaken to make greater numbers of transplantable organs available.
Offering financial incentives for donation raises ethical concerns about potential coercion, the voluntariness of decisions to donate, and possible adverse consequences, including reducing the rate of altruistic organ donation and unduly encouraging perception of the human body as a source of profit. These concerns merit further study to determine whether, overall, the benefits of financial incentives for organ donation outweigh their potential harms.
Donations under presumed consent (or mandated choice) would be ethically appropriate only if it could be determined that individuals were aware of the presumption that they were willing to donate organs and if effective and easily accessible mechanisms for documenting and honoring refusals to donate had been established.
Transplants of umbilical cord blood have been recommended to treat a variety of conditions. Physicians who provide obstetrical care should be prepared to inform pregnant women of the various options regarding cord blood donation or storage and the potential uses of donated samples.
In the context of prospective organ donation from an anencephalic newborn, physicians may ethically provide ventilator assistance and other medical therapies that are necessary to sustain organ perfusion and viability until such time as a determination of death can be made in accordance with accepted medical standards, but may only retrieve and transplant the organs of an anencephalic newborn after such determination of death.