Ethical issues in living-related corneal tissue transplantation

Journal of Medical Ethics 45 (7):430-434 (2019)
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Abstract

The cornea was the first human solid tissue to be transplanted successfully, and is now a common procedure in ophthalmic surgery. The grafts come from deceased donors. Corneal therapies are now being developed that rely on tissue from living-related donors. This presents new ethical challenges for ophthalmic surgeons, who have hitherto been somewhat insulated from debates in transplantation and donation ethics. This paper provides the first overview of the ethical considerations generated by ocular tissue donation from living donors and suggests how these might be addressed in practice. These are discussed in the context of a novel treatment for corneal limbal stem cell deficiency. This involves limbal cell grafts which are transplanted, either directly or after ex vivo expansion, onto recipient stem cell-deficient eyes. Where only one eye is diseased, the unaffected eye can be used as a source of graft tissue. Bilateral disease requires an allogenic donation, preferably from a genetically related living donor. While numerous papers have dealt with the theory, surgical approaches and clinical outcomes of limbal stem cell therapies, none has addressed the ethical dimensions of this form of tissue donation.

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