Procuring organs from a non-heart-beating cadaver: a case report

Kennedy Inst Ethics J. 1993 Dec;3(4):371-85. doi: 10.1353/ken.0.0115.


Organ transplantation is an accepted therapy for major organ failure, but it depends on the availability of viable organs. Most organs transplanted in the U.S. come from either "brain-dead" or living related donors. Recently organ procurement from patients pronounced dead using cardiopulmonary criteria, so-called "non-heart-beating cadaver donors" (NHBCDs), has been reconsidered. In May 1992, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) enacted a new, complicated policy for procuring organs from NHBCDs after the elective removal of life support. Seventeen months later only one patient has become a NHBCD. This article describes her case and the results of interviews with the health care team and the patient's family. The case and interviews are discussed in relation to several of the ethical concerns previously raised about the policy, including potential conflicts of interest, the definition of cardiopulmonary death, and a possible net decrease in organ donation. The conclusion is reached that organ procurement from non-heart-beating cadavers is feasible and may be desirable both for the patient's family and the health care providers.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Academic Medical Centers / standards*
  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Attitude to Health
  • Cadaver*
  • Death, Sudden, Cardiac*
  • Ethics Committees, Clinical
  • Ethics, Institutional*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Legal Guardians / psychology
  • Organizational Policy
  • Patient Care Team
  • Pennsylvania
  • Professional-Family Relations
  • Risk Assessment
  • Tissue Donors / supply & distribution*
  • Tissue and Organ Procurement / standards*
  • Withholding Treatment