The AMA was founded in part to establish the first national code of medical ethics. Today the Code is widely recognized as authoritative ethics guidance for physicians through its Principles of Medical Ethics interpreted in Opinions of AMA’s Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs that address the evolving challenges of contemporary practice.
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.
Organ transplantation is unique in that it involves two patients, donor and recipient, both of whose interests must be protected. Concern for the patient should always take precedence over advancing scientific knowledge.
Donation of needed organs to specified recipients has long been permitted in organ transplantation. Directed organ donation policies that produce a net gain of organs for transplantation and do not unreasonably disadvantage other transplant candidates are ethically acceptable.
Xenotransplantation, i.e., using organs or tissues from nonhuman animal species for transplantation into human patients, is a possible novel means of addressing the shortage of transplantable organs that can pose distinctive ethical challenges with respect to patient safety and public health.
Physicians who are involved in any role in research with human participants have an ethical obligation to ensure that participants’ interests are protected and to safeguard participants’ welfare, safety, and comfort.
Physicians must ensure that the participant (or legally authorized representative) has given voluntary, informed consent before enrolling a prospective participant in a research protocol. The obligation to obtain informed consent arises out of respect for persons and a desire to respect the autonomy of the individual.