Sunday, October 13, 2002

When to harvest organs at issue

Guidelines illegal in Ohio

By The Associated Press

CLEVELAND - An organization which obtains human organs for transplant has new guidelines for knowing when death occurs, but there is some doubt whether the protocol is within the law.

Any transplant from people who are not declared brain-dead is illegal, Cuyahoga County's chief criminal prosecutor said.

LifeBanc, a northeast Ohio organ procurement agency, recently proposed guidelines for doctors to remove organs from people who are sustained on life support and are believed to have no chance of survival, but are not brain-dead.

The protocol would allow a donation based on cardiac death once a family has decided to withdraw life support.

Many organ banks have accepted cardiac death protocols as a way to increase donations for the 80,000 patients waiting for transplants.

But the procedure would violate Ohio's death statute, said Timothy Miller, a criminal division chief under Cuyahoga County Prosecutor William Mason. The statute says a person on life support can only be declared dead based on irreversible cessation of brain function.

“Our best advice is to lobby the Legislature to change the definition of death,” said Mr. Miller. “It may very well be that technology has outpaced the statute.”

Dr. Stuart Youngner, chairman of the Case Western Reserve University Center for Bioethics, led an ethics panel that reviewed the protocol for the Ohio Solid Organ Transplant Consortium, a group representing state transplant hospitals.

He said the brain death requirement is relevant only while a patient is on a ventilator, and not after life support is withdrawn.

LifeBanc director Debbie May-Johnson said she has not heard from the prosecutor's office since meeting about new protocol several months ago.

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