Worldwide barriers to organ donation

JAMA Neurol. 2015 Jan;72(1):112-8. doi: 10.1001/jamaneurol.2014.3083.


Importance: The disparity between patients awaiting organ transplantation and organ availability increases each year. As a consequence, organ trafficking has emerged and developed into a multibillion-dollar-a-year industry.

Objective: To identify and address barriers to organ donation in the United States and globally.

Evidence review: Evidence-based peer-reviewed articles, including prospective and retrospective cohort studies, as well as case series and reports were identified in a PubMed search of organ donation, barriers to organ donation, brain death, donation after cardiac death, and organ trafficking. Additional Internet searches were conducted of national and international transplant and organ donation websites and US Department of Health of Health and Human Services websites. Citation publication dates ranged from August 1, 1968, through June 28, 2014.

Findings: The lack of standardization of brain death and organ donation criteria worldwide contributes to a loss of potential donors. Major barriers to donation include variable clinical and legal definitions of brain death; inconsistent legal upholding of brain death criteria; racial, ethnic, and religious perspectives on organ donation; and physician discomfort and community misunderstanding of the process of donation after cardiac death. Limited international legislation and oversight of organ donation and transplant has contributed to the dilemma of organ trafficking.

Conclusions and relevance: An urgent need exists for a global standard on the definition of brain death and donation after death by cardiac criteria to better regulate organ donation and maximize transplantation rates. Unified standards may have a positive effect on limiting organ trafficking.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attitude to Health*
  • Global Health
  • Humans
  • Tissue and Organ Procurement* / methods
  • Tissue and Organ Procurement* / standards
  • United States