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Crit Care. 2013 May 23;17(3):316. doi: 10.1186/cc12553.

Intimacy or utility? Organ donation and the choice between palliation and ventilation.


Organ donation after brain death provides the most important source for deceased organs for transplantation, both because of the number of potential organ donors that it makes available and also because of the unparalleled viability of the organs retrieved. Analysis of worldwide deceased organ donation rates demonstrates that all countries with high deceased organ donation rates (>20 donors per million population per year) have high brain death rates (>40 brain deaths per million population per year). This analysis makes it clear that countries striving to increase their deceased organ donor rates to world leading levels must increase the rates of donation after brain death. For countries with end-of-life care strategies that stress palliation, advance care planning and treatment withdrawal for the terminally ill, the adoption of initiatives to meaningfully raise deceased donor rates will require increasing the rate at which brain death is diagnosed. This poses a difficult, and perhaps intractable, medical, ethical and sociocultural challenge as the changes that would be required to increase rates of brain death would mean conjugating an intimate clinical and cultural focus on the dying patient with the notion of how this person's death might be best managed to be of benefit to others.

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