Critics bash organ transplant pilot program over ethical concerns

Emergency physicians at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center-Presbyterian Hospital and Allegheny General Hospital, also in Pittsburgh, have a green light to preserve organs from just two minutes after the a patient's death is pronounced under a controversial pilot program funded by the HHS. The project, which hopes to determine whether such a practice is even possible, has opponents up in arms over ethical concerns. 

Clifton Callaway, an associate professor of emergency medicine at the University of Pittsburgh and the project's leader, defended the practice by pointing out that medical professionals won't check on a patient's organ-donor status until after death is pronounced. He also said that medical personnel and transplant team members will work separately, and that "only patients...who it is clear cannot be revived" will be used. 

"[Patient's will be] dead," Callaway said. "Clinically dead. There is an unambiguous death." 

But Dr. Arthur Caplan, a University of Pennsylvania bioethicist, brought up a hypothetical situation involving a 20-year-old young man from the inner city being shot and brought into the ER for treatment. In Caplan's example, the youth dies, and his organs ultimately are preserved because he has an organ donor card. "You can imagine, [a family member] is going to think, 'Did you really do everything you could to save him?'" Caplan said. 

Dr. Leslie Whetstine, a bioethicist with Walsh University in Ohio called the idea "ghoulish," adding that "there's a fine line between methods that are pioneering and methods that are predatory." 

HHS supplied the two hospitals with a $321,000 grant for the pilot. If successful, the department aims to encourage other hospitals to participate in such a program. 

In December 2008, California transplant surgeon Dr. Hootan Roozrokh was acquitted after being charged with hastening the death of a 25-year-old patient with irreversible brain damage in order to preserve the patient's organs for transplant. Roozrokh administered large doses of morphine, Ativan and Betadine to the patient, he claimed, to ensure the patient did not suffer after being removed from a respirator. 

To learn more:
- read this Washington Post article