Friday, September 19, 2008

The Living or the Dead?

Science News reports on an experimental heart transplant procedure that involves removing the heart from a "dead" infant and placing it into a "live" one. Researchers performed three such transplants, and all three recipient children continued to live when they otherwise would not have.

The problem? Well, much like the doctor in "Happy Effects"--Dr. Jan Steenwycks, who tries to determine whether or not his patient is expired using techniques of the early 18th century (garlic, mirrors, needles and pins), the doctors of today are not convinced that the dead babies are no longer among the living.

As reported in Science News:

The dilemma focuses on the dead donor rule, an ethical guideline stating that a donor must be dead before vital organs are prepared for transplantation. When the heart has stopped irreversibly, it is called cardiac death. Dead donor rule protocol, based on a 2005 consensus in the medical community, suggests waiting between two and five minutes after the pulse stops to declare death.

However, to prevent damage to the donor organs, the hearts in the study were removed from the donors only "one minute and fifteen seconds after the donor’s pulse ceased."

Should doctors modify the dead donor rule in order to increase the chances of successful transplants? Ethical debates continue. An interesting clip of the debate can also be found on the Science News site.

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