The modern healthcare system’s increased ability to offer quality services has increased the importance of some previously overlooked issues such as organ donation. In today’s scenarios, there exist a wide variety of methods through which people can procure replacement organs. Health institutions are, therefore, hard pressed to ensure that they adhere to the best practices in ensuring that their clients have fair access to legally-procured organs. They must also ensure that these patients are prioritized in a transparent and ethical manner, without affording preferential treatment to any of their cases. Therefore, the bioethics of organ procurement are vital for helping health professionals to meet their mandate to their clients.
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Donor organs are living tissue and as such, must be handled in ways that preserve their integrity. From the onset, Organ Procurement Organizations (OPOs) must obtain the donor’s consent before collecting any of their tissue either after death or through surgery in the case of kidney or skin transplants (Howard, Cornell, & Cochran, 2012, p. 14). To achieve this, OPOs coordinate their operations with health institutions to ensure their efficiency. Those OPOs that cannot afford to have in-house specialists to perform organ procurements resort to hiring them through other service providers (Howard et al., 2012, p. 15). Access to these professionals ensures that OPOs can educate the public on organ donation, receive donor information, evaluate individual cases, manage post-mortem scenarios, seek the consent of the donor’s next-of-kin, and contact other health providers to find suitable recipients (Howard et al., 2012, p. 15).
Even as OPOs strive to connect willing donors with recipients in need of their tissue, there are some complexities around the receipt of donor tissue. For instance, recipients have to take a long course of immunosuppressant medication to reduce their bodies’ chances of rejecting the donor organs (Ridjic, et al., 2011, p. 108). Resultantly, recipients must be beneficiaries of insurance schemes that will help them shoulder the economic cost of being an organ recipient. Medicare, Medicaid, and the Social Security Retirement system are some government initiatives that assist low-income and elderly patients in accessing post-op immunosuppressant medication (Ridjic, et al., 2011, p. 109). Even so, Medicare’s coverage is limited, and some gaps still exist, which is a disadvantage for many individuals from the recipient pool (Ridjic, et al., 2011, p. 112).
Organ disbursement is a complicated process due to the availability of a small number of donor organs compared to the overwhelming number of potential recipients. The United Network for Organ Sharing handles disbursement in the US and has adopted a “best bet” organ allocation policy to ensure efficient and fair allocation (Cherkassky, 2011, p. 418). This system allocates donor organs to recipients who are most likely to benefit from them and survive for longer, and not to those who need them the most, as is often the case with medical emergencies (Cherkassky, 2011, p. 420). This approach rules out the urgency of cases such as those of potential recipients who are nearing death due to organ failure but in turn, favors patients who have little or no history of negative behaviors that would shorten the donor organ’s life span (Cherkassky, 2011, p. 420).
Organ transfer is a critical issue that affects the donors, recipients, their families, health institutions and many other stakeholders. As a result, the procurement and disbursement processes must ensure that they follow the most prudent paths to protect the interests of individuals on both sides of the donation. Organ allocation is a contentious issue, and distribution agencies are still trying to formulate fair allocation protocols to ensure that they perform their duties ethically. By doing so, they can ensure that donor organs are put to the best possible use and that the recipients will, in turn, live more fulfilling lives because of them.
Cherkassky, L. (2011). Does the United States Do It Better? A Comparative Analysis of Liver Allocation Protocols in the United Kingdom and the United States. Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 20(3), 418-433.
Howard, R. J., Cornell, D. L., & Cochran, L. (2012). History of Deceased Organ Donation, Transplantation, and Organ Procurement Organizations. Progress in Transplantation, 6-17.
Ridjic, O., Ridjic, G., Masic, I., Muminagic, S., Slipicevic, O., Agic, N., & Karamehic, J. (2011). Financial and Legal Aspects of the Organ Transplantation. AIM, 108-113.