Objective: Organ donation after cardiac death (DCD) is one promising possibility of combating the organ shortage, but it raises ethical issues that differ from those raised in donation after brain death (DBD). Also, DCD may be perceived differently than DBD by medical staff and the public. The aim of this article is to systematically review empirical studies on attitudes of medical personnel and the public toward DCD and to discuss the findings from an ethical perspective. Our study was conducted in accordance with a seven-step approach for systematic reviews of empirical studies in bioethics.
Data sources: The authors chose PubMed, EMBASE, CINAHL, PSYCINFO, and PSYNDEX, thus attempting to cover biomedical, sociological and ethical articles on the subject.
Study selection: A search algorithm using controlled vocabulary of the respective databases (where applicable) was created, and criteria for the relevance assessment of the articles were established. Article quality was assessed using the Critical Appraisal Skills Programme tool.
Data extraction and synthesis: The authors took an integrative approach to the data, combining it for further analysis. Qualitative data were synthesized by means of thematic analysis, and a spectrum of relevant themes was identified. Then the authors extracted the quantitative data that corresponded with the identified themes. Quantitative data on common subjects were juxtaposed and presented later.
Conclusions: Identified themes were the levels of support for DBD vs. DCD, attitudes toward postmortem measures without previous consent, lack of knowledge about DCD, concerns about the Dead Donor Rule, the potential for conflict of interest, making donation happen, and the call for standardized DCD protocols. All of these issues are of ethical relevance and merit further discussion. We conclude that deep-rooted concerns about DCD exist among medical personnel and the general public. These need to be taken seriously in order to maintain or foster trust in the transplantation system.