Markkula Center of Applied Ethics

The Physician's Role in Organ/Tissue Donation

By Margaret R. McLean, Ph.D.,

In the United States, one person dies every three hours for want of a transplant and 45,000 people continue to wait. Because of the critical shortage of organ and tissue donors, state and federal laws now require that health care professionals and organizations assist organ and tissue procurement agencies in their efforts. The Northern California Transplant Bank in cooperation with the California Transplant Donor Network will be facilitating the process of organ and tissue donation at O'Connor Hospital.

Whenever a potential or actual death occurs or when a patient has a specific advance directive for anatomical donation, it is the responsibility of the hospital staff to make a referral by calling the Donor Hotline (1-800-55-DONOR) where a coordinator obtains a brief patient background. Medical and legal suitability for donation is determined taking into account exclusion factors which change frequently. If organs and/or tissues are determined to be suitable for donation, then a coordinator from the Organ/Tissue Network will come to the hospital and meet with the physician and family.

While organs must come from donors with an intact circulation, tissues such as bone, fascia, veins, heart valves, eyes and skin can be recovered up to 24 hours after death. These gifts of tissues provide a new quality to life for those who are on a waiting list and assist the hospital in achieving its mission. If a family is not capable of making the decision to donate tissue when first notified of the patient's death, then the coordinator will contact the family later and offer the opportunity to donate tissue.

This service offered by the Northern California Transplant Bank minimizes the added work the physician and hospital would otherwise undergo to identify potential donors and to coordinate the recovery of tissues and organs in the most timely and cost-effective manner. If you would like more information, contact the Northern California Transplant Bank at 1-800-922-3100.

Connie Yokum, MSN, CCRN, Cardiac CNS, Heart Center
Margaret R. McLean, Ph.D., Director, Applied Ethics Center at O'Connor

A version of this article appeared in the August 1996 edition of Physician News Briefs, a publication of O'Connor Hospital, San Jose, California.
Copyright 1996 Connie Yokum, MSN and Margaret R. McLean, Ph.D.

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