In a recent episode of Last Week Tonight, host John Oliver gave viewers a peek into the complicated, flawed, and often dysfunctional system of organ and whole body donation in the U.S. “The fact is, our donated organs, while being incredibly important to saving lives, are not getting to enough people, and our donated bodies, incredibly important to advancing knowledge, aren’t always treated with the care they deserve,” Oliver explained. The organ transplant list is over 100,000 people long, and while around 6,000 Americans die each year while waiting for organ transplants, the government has estimated that if Organ Procurement Organizations increased their performance, approximately 5,600 more organs could be transplanted each year. Additionally, the buying and selling of bodies donated to science is virtually unregulated so there is no guarantee that a whole body donation will actually be used for medical education.
Organ and whole body donation are crucial to saving lives and advancing medicine. Each day, 17 people die while waiting for an organ transplant, but every organ donor can save 8 lives and enhance over 75 more. And whole body donation can help provide medical students with invaluable experience needed to understand human anatomy.
AMA Code of Medical Ethics Chapter 6, “Organ Procurement & Transplantation,” provides several relevant opinions to help physicians navigate the challenges of organ procurement and organ transplantation, where the “need for organs for transplantation far outstrips the supply” and where the “interests [of both donors and recipients] must be protected.”
Opinion 6.1.2, “Organ Donation After Cardiac Death,” for example, states, “Increasing the supply of organs available for transplant serves the interests of patients and the public and is in keeping with physicians’ ethical obligation to contribute to the health of the public and to support access to medical care. 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 is a crucial way that American citizens can help medical professionals save lives, and any improvements to help more people on the waitlist receive an organ should be welcomed.
To further explore the AMA Code of Medical Ethics, please visit AMAethicscode.org.
Published on December 7, 2023