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Monday, June 24, 2013

NCBC and the Organ Donation Conversation

As heard on NPR today, the nation's organ transplant network will consider a controversial proposal to set new requirements for a form of organ donation known as: Controlled Donation after Circulatory Death (DCD).

The board of directors of the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN), which is operated under the United Network For Organ Sharing  (UNOS), opened a two-day meeting at the organization's headquarters in Richmond, Va., to consider new requirements for DCD, which involves the harvesting of a person's organs (to preserve their good condition) just minutes after the donor has experienced a cardiac arrest, often as a result of withdrawing life support. 

The concerns regarding this procedure are multitudinous; however, a paramount cause for worry is the timing of the evaluation for donor suitability.  The Institute of Medicine and OPTN’s own Ethics Committee advise that the donor’s/family’s decision to remove life support be made before any approach concerning donation is made to the family of the donor, or even the conscious patient.  The proposed Requirements will leave the timing of such evaluation and discussion up to the Organ Procurement Organization and the donor’s health care team.  Furthermore, the time frame to delay in harvesting organs, to determine that the heart has irreversibly stopped beating, will be left up to local policy, without invoking the national standard recommended by the Institute of Medicine.

The National Catholic Bioethics Center, while in full support of the truly amazing and life-saving programs of organ donation and transplantation, has had serious reservations about these proposals and wants to ensure the respect for the human rights and dignity of the donor. The NCBC, while aware of the importance of speed in obtaining critically needed viable organs for transplantation, wants to ensure that one life is not ended prematurely simply to expedite organ harvesting.  At the same time, the NCBC is supportive of programs that enable the ever-important preservation of another life, that of the recipient. To accomplish this, however, organ procurement programs must not violate true informed consent, nor can they violate the the dead donor rule.

The NCBC's Director of Public Policy, Dr. Marie Hilliard, also chairs the Ethics and Public Policy Committee of the National Catholic Partnership on Disability (NCPD), and has been following these developments very closely. Dr. Hilliard has made NCBC’s concerns known to OPTN in preparation for their meeting. You can read her commentary HERE.

Dr. Hilliard coordinated with the NCPD to arrange a successful interview between Rob Stein of NPR and Stephen Mikochik who spoke of behalf of the NCPD.  Dr. Hilliard commented on the interview, saying: “It is gratifying that through the NCBC’s collaboration with the National Catholic Partnership on Disability that there is a growing awareness of the significant threats to informed consent and the dead-donor rule in the proposed organ procurement policies.  The fact that providers and ethicists representing non-faith-based agencies also recognize these concerns demonstrates the breadth of the problem.  We trust that the OPTN will reconsider its proposal.”

The National Catholic Bioethics Center is proud to have hosted Steve Mikochik for the interview, which he conducted, with Dr. Hilliard's coordination, in the NCBC library. 

The program aired on NPR this morning, before the critical meetings, and Mr. Mikochik did an excellent job.

NCBC President, Dr. John Haas, was proud to have The Center so closely involved in these important issues and he was glad that this effort was: 

"Another wonderful example of the contributions being made by all here at the NCBC and a show of how all our varied talents work together to serve the Lord of Life and His loved ones!"

You can listen to the full NPR story and hear Mr. Mikochik's comments HERE.

Let's all pray that the life of each human is protected until its true, complete end.

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