The dead donor rule: should we stretch it, bend it, or abandon it?

Kennedy Inst Ethics J. 1993 Jun;3(2):263-78. doi: 10.1353/ken.0.0153.


The dead donor rule--that persons must be dead before their organs are taken--is a central part of the moral framework underlying organ procurement. Efforts to increase the pool of transplantable organs have been forced either to redefine death (e.g., anencephaly) or take advantage of ambiguities in the current definition of death (e.g., the Pittsburgh protocol). Society's growing acceptance of circumstances in which health care professionals can hasten a patient's death also may weaken the symbolic importance of the dead donor rule. We consider the implications of these efforts to continually revise the line between life and death and ask whether it would be preferable to abandon the dead donor rule and rely entirely on informed consent as a safeguard against abuse.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain Death
  • Brain Diseases
  • Death*
  • Ethical Theory
  • Euthanasia, Active, Voluntary
  • Homicide
  • Human Body
  • Humans
  • Informed Consent
  • Life Support Care / standards*
  • Morals
  • Organizational Policy
  • Personal Autonomy
  • Tissue Donors / supply & distribution*
  • Tissue and Organ Procurement / organization & administration
  • Tissue and Organ Procurement / standards*
  • United States
  • Withholding Treatment*