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Clin Anat. 2005 Mar;18(2):150-3.

Ethics, transplantation, and the changing role of anatomists.

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University of Kwa-Zulu Natal, Westville Campus, Durban, South Africa.


Anatomists are regarded as custodians of cadaveric material donated to science. Almost every facet of medical science has experienced explosive advances. This has impacted directly on anatomists and their role. Increasingly, anatomists are raising concerns with regard to the treatment of human tissue (Jones,2002, Clin. Anat. 15:436-440). The Korperwelten (Bodyworlds) of Gunther von Hagens et al. (1987, Anat. Embryol. 175:411-421) has evoked considerable debate about the treatment of human cadavers. Thus far clinical anatomists have had little role to play in policy formulation, legislation, and ethical imperatives as applied to cadaveric donation for organ transplantation. Anatomists play an even more negligible role in the raging ethical controversy around live related/unrelated organ transplantation. Due to the critical international shortage of cadaveric donors, boundaries are being pushed to meet the needs of potential recipients (Ohler,2001, Prog. Transplant. 11:160-161). Constant reappraisal of these ethical and moral issues is therefore appropriate. Issues that relate to cultural and economic imperialism and pronouncements of international transplant societies may also require re-evaluation. The legislature governing the donation of human tissue in various countries is usually governed by a Human Tissue Act or its equivalent. In general, such acts are congruent with the Human Tissue Act (South Africa: Government Gazette 9, November 2001; No. 22824) that states "It is an offense to charge a fee in relation to the donation of human organs." In many countries, however, various lay press report that "the sale of body parts is now coming of age." Terms such as "rewarded gifting" and "donors" being transformed into "vendors" are opening a Pandora's Box (Nelson et al.,1993, "Financial incentives for organ donation: a report on the UNOS ethics committee payment subcommittee"). Cameron and Hoffenberg (1999, Kidney Int. 55:724-732) feel strongly that arguments in favour of the sale of organs are sufficiently cogent to warrant further discussion. Equally disturbing is the use of executed prisoners as organ donors. In the developing world there are additional socio-economic, indigenous and cultural, religious, and ethical issues to consider. In addition, strategies that are ethically sound and morally acceptable to expand the pool of living donors must keep pace with recent advances in medicine. A paradigm shift is required for anatomists to contribute to the international ethical debate, not only as custodians of the dead but also as protectors of the living. Their voices should be heard in transplantation and other forums, and contribute to the ethical debate as well as relevant evolving legislature.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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