Abstract

Transplantation of vital organs has been premised ethically and legally on “the dead donor rule” (DDR)—the requirement that donors are determined to be dead before these organs are procured. Nevertheless, scholars have argued cogently that donors of vital organs, including those diagnosed as “brain dead” and those declared dead according to cardiopulmonary criteria, are not in fact dead at the time that vital organs are being procured. In this article, we challenge the normative rationale for the DDR by rejecting the underlying premise that it is necessarily wrong for physicians to cause the death of patients and the claim that abandoning this rule would exploit vulnerable patients. We contend that it is ethical to procure vital organs from living patients sustained on life support prior to treatment withdrawal, provided that there is valid consent for both withdrawing treatment and organ donation. However, the conservatism of medical ethics and practical concerns make it doubtful that the DDR will be abandoned in the near future. This leaves the current practice of organ transplantation based on the “moral fiction” that donors are dead when vital organs are procured.

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