Is it ethical to keep brain dead people alive for their organs?

Jul 27, 2012

Two organ donor application leaflets shown in London on January 16, 2008. Credit: LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images

At any given time, there are more than 114,000 Americans in need of life-saving organ transplants. And on average, 18 of them lose their lives every day because they did not receive the transplant they need. Even still, there were 28,535 organ transplants in the U.S. last year.

Given this shortfall, medical experts are always looking for ways to save more lives. One of the techniques being used more frequently is called elective ventilation, which is a practice that doctors us to keep a brain dead patient alive for the sole purpose of organ donation.

Examples include people who have suffered severe brain trauma who are close to death but have otherwise healthy organs and are certified organ donors. The practice is already in use, but some medical ethicists view techniques like elective ventilation as controversial because it involves keeping people alive for the sole purpose harvesting their organs.


Is it ethical to prolong the lives of people with terminal injuries given that those people can no longer give medical consent? Is saving lives with more and better organs worth the ethical considerations?

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