Imminent-death organ donation raises ethical questions


The Wall Street Journal says 52-year-old Robert Osterrieder, a registered organ donor, was a “go-to-guy,” always willing to help.

Osterrieder’s wife and children thought organ donation reflected the way he had lived. But when they wanted to donate one of his kidneys in 2012, they couldn’t do it because Osterrieder was still alive.

Osterrieder suddenly experienced problems with his vision. Two days later, he was on a ventilator. After five months, he remained unconscious. His family decided to terminate life support.

Doctors said his heart would beat for hours after removal of the ventilator, and his organs would become unusable. So the family wanted Osterrieder to be a “living donor.” The removal of one of his kidneys wouldn’t be fatal. Life support would be terminated several days later.

Osterrieder’s doctors and hospital ethicists ascertained that his family was united in support of donation and became convinced that donation would be consistent with Osterrieder’s wishes, could he express them. But how would the family cope if their decision made the news? Criticism of their choice could be severe. Continue reading
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