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N Engl J Med. 1989 Aug 10;321(6):344-50.

Experience with anencephalic infants as prospective organ donors.

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  • 1Department of Pediatrics, Loma Linda University Medical Center, CA 92350.


Recent advances have made organ transplantation in newborns feasible, but the paucity of organs small enough for this age group remains a major limitation. Because anencephalic infants can survive for no more than a few weeks, they have been considered as possible organ donors for other infants. Under current law, however, they cannot be used as donors until their brain-stem activity ceases and the criteria for total brain death are thereby met. If anencephalic infants receive customary care, their solid organs usually undergo irreversible hypoxic injury during the process of dying and become unsuitable for donation by the time of death. We modified the medical care of 12 live-born anencephalic infants for one week to determine whether organ viability could be maintained and whether the criteria of total brain death could be met. Six received intensive care from birth, and six only when signs of imminent death developed. Only two infants met the criteria for total brain death within one week, and no solid organs were procured. Most organs were suitable for transplantation at birth. When intensive care was provided from birth, organ function was maintained; however, brain-stem activity ceased in only one infant within the first week. When intensive care was delayed until death was imminent, most organs were damaged to an extent that made them no longer suitable for transplantation. Our findings suggest that it is usually not feasible, with the restrictions of current law, to procure solid organs for transplantation from anencephalic infants.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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