Transplanting Hearts after Death Measured by Cardiac Criteria: The Challenge to the Dead Donor Rule

Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 35 (3):313-329 (2010)


The current definition of death used for donation after cardiac death relies on a determination of the irreversible cessation of the cardiac function. Although this criterion can be compatible with transplantation of most organs, it is not compatible with heart transplantation since heart transplants by definition involve the resuscitation of the supposedly "irreversibly" stopped heart. Subsequently, the definition of "irreversible" has been altered so as to permit heart transplantation in some circumstances, but this is unsatisfactory. There are three available strategies for solving this "irreversibility problem": altering the definition of death so as to rely on circulatory irreversibility, rather than cardiac; defining death strictly on the basis of brain death (either whole-brain or more pragmatically some higher brain criteria); or redefining death in traditional terms and simultaneously legalizing some limited instances of medical killing to procure viable hearts. The first two strategies are the most ethically justifiable and practical

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