Reuse of cardiac organs in transplantation: an ethical analysis
This paper examines the ethical aspects of organ transplant surgery in which a donor heart is transplanted from a first recipient, following determination of death by neurologic criteria, to a second recipient. Retransplantation in this sense differs from that in which one recipient undergoes repeat heart transplantation of a newly donated organ, and is thus referred to here as “reuse cardiac organ transplantation.” Medical, legal, and ethical analysis, with a main focus on ethical analysis. From the medical perspective, it is critical to ensure the quality and safety of reused organs, but we lack sufficient empirical data pertaining to medical risk. From the legal perspective, a comparative examination of laws in the United States and Japan affirms no illegality, but legal scholars disagree on the appropriate analysis of the issues, including whether or not property rights apply to transplanted organs. Ethical arguments supporting the reuse of organs include the analogous nature of donation to gifts, the value of donations as inheritance property, and the public property theory as it pertains to organs. Meanwhile, ethical arguments such as those that address organ recycling and identity issues challenge organ reuse. We conclude that organ reuse is not only ethically permissible, but even ethically desirable. Furthermore, we suggest changes to be implemented in the informed consent process prior to organ transplantation. The organ transplant community worldwide should engage in wider and deeper discussions, in hopes that such efforts will lead to the timely preparation of guidelines to implement reuse cardiac organ transplantation as well as reuse transplantation of other organs such as kidney and liver.