Left ventricular assist devices: An ethical analysis

Science and Engineering Ethics 5 (1):89-96 (1999)


United States statistics continue to indicate that the human donor heart pool does not and will not meet the great demand for hearts. For those patients unresponsive to maximal medical therapy (approximately 60,000 patients per year), cardiac transplantation is currently their best hope for increased survival. To address the need for additional end-stage congestive heart failure (CHF) therapy options, three medical device manufacturers have developed implantable left ventricular assist devices (LVAD) which act as a pump for hemodynamic support of the patient’s diseased heart. Although LVADs have been shown to improve patient disease state prior to organ transplantation. LVADs do nothing to increase the pool of human donor hearts, and they negatively impact the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) waiting list by increasing the size of the waiting pool. This paper identifies and explores the ethical challenges presented by the use of LVADs as a bridging technology for heart transplant candidates. Although LVADs raise some ethical concerns, these concerns are outweighed by the proven medical efficacy of these devices. Thus, this technology should continue to be used and further developed.

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