Melbourne Doctor: Most Donors Still Alive when Organs are Removed
Tue Oct 21, 2008 11:15 EST
By Kathleen Gilbert
MELBOURNE, Australia, October 21, 2008 (LifeSiteNews.com) - A prominent Melbourne doctor has written that, contrary to popular belief, most organ donations take place before the donor is actually dead
. He argues that the vague criterion of "brain death" has blinded potential donors to the fact that their organs are often harvested while they are still alive.Pediatric intensive care specialist Dr. James Tibballs
published his controversial views in the Journal of Law and Medicine earlier this month, calling upon medical institutions to review their organ harvesting guidelines to ensure that donors know that they may be volunteering to surrender their life on the operating table.Tibballs points out that current medical practices usually contravene the law, which state that a donor must display irreversible cessation of all functions of their brain or of blood circulation in order to be eligible for the surgery
. Australian doctors, however, usually wait only two minutes after a heart has stopped beating before giving the green light for harvesting
, said the pediatric specialist.
But Tibballs says two minutes is inadequate time to determine whether the loss of circulation is "irreversible." The two minutes criterion was established purely for utilitarian reasons, he says - because waiting longer could threaten the viability of donated organs.
"It could be troubling for the public to realise that doctors looking out for organ donors are also the ones formulating guidelines on how to declare death for organ transplantation," observed Tibballs.
"For this reason, there should be members of the community and people with legal backgrounds on the committee that create these clinical guidelines used to declare someone dead."
Organ donor groups have criticized Tibballs’ article, expressing concern that it may cause donors or potential donors to reconsider their commitment.
"This could be very damaging to public confidence of brain death diagnosis, because a lot of people might say, ‘we don’t believe in this any more,’ and as a consequence, people might die on waiting lists," said Bill Silvester, the medical director of LifeGift.
Dr Gerry O’Callaghan also dismissed Tibballs’ ideas, claiming that donors should be confident that a brain death diagnosis always means true death. "There is no possibility that they would be conscious, that they would have the capacity to feel pain, that they have the capacity for independent life," he said.
However, although Tibballs’ opponents stress that his opinions are in the minority, there has been growing concern about aggressive organ harvesting policies that fail to ensure that the patient is actually dead.