Transplantation and palliative care: the convergence of two seemingly opposite realities

Surg Clin North Am. 2005 Apr;85(2):373-82. doi: 10.1016/j.suc.2005.01.021.


One of the authors once asked a great transplant surgeon what came to his mind when asked about palliative care. He had two answers: the first,was somewhat simplistic; the second was profound. He said that this type of service was helpful in the ICU when there was not much more to be done surgically for a patient who was dying; the second, was a story about an individual whom he had transplanted three times (who survived!) because he and his team did not want the patient and family to give up hope. The second answer is fundamentally more in keeping with the philosophy of palliative care, despite the extraordinary specific circumstances. The surgeon demonstrated ongoing presence and non abandonment. This patient was palliated, although few surgeons could have accomplished this by doing two retransplantations! Fortunately, for the less gifted and lucky, there are many ways in which to continue a meaningful presence to an ailing or dying patient on a transplant service that do not require a transplantation procedure. One wonders why palliative care and transplantation have not been more formally acquainted in the past given the extensive overlap of the populations served, the nature of the day-to-day problems, and the intensity of the commitment to the patient. The time is ripe for a formal mutual acquaintance between palliative care specialists and transplant teams,perhaps in the format of a work group that is similar to the work groups that promoted excellence in palliative care, such as the End Stage Renal Disease Workgroup, that were grant funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The fields of transplantation and palliative care have a treasure trove of experience that is lacking in the other that could be exchanged profitably with a great sense of satisfaction for all.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude to Health
  • Hospice Care
  • Humans
  • Medical Futility
  • Organ Transplantation* / ethics
  • Pain Management
  • Palliative Care* / ethics
  • Patient Participation
  • Personal Autonomy
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Professional-Family Relations
  • Social Adjustment
  • Spirituality
  • Treatment Refusal