Friday, 20 June 2008

Dead or alive?

The BBC is running story today about a family in Mumbai who were taking their "stillborn" baby to the cemetery and when she began to gurgle. They were apparently "astonished". There is no indication as to how a man in Paris felt when he woke up on the operating table to find he was being prepared for surgery to remove his organs for transplantation.

In both cases the issue was around defining and diagnosing death. In the second case, which happened in Paris, the man had been diagnosed as dead under new experimental rules brought in to ensure that more organs are available for transplant. The article is vague about the rules, but refers to "heart stopped" which I assume is similar to "non-heart-beating organ donation" described in the Journal of Hospital Medicine. In the UK the criteria is brainstem death.

UK Transplant has a number of FAQs, including "how do they know you are really dead?" I'm surprised not to see listed as an FAQ "will doctors make an attempt to save my life if I am a donor or will they be more worried about having my organs?" It's certainly an objection I've heard from people- a fear of being used as a source of organs rather than being treated as a patient in need of care. It's a question more people will ask while incidents such as this French case continue to appear in the news.

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