Psychosocial and ethical implications of organ retrieval

S. J. Youngner, M. Allen, E. T. Bartlett, H. F. Cascorbi, T. Hau, D. L. Jackson, M. B. Mahowald, B. J. Martin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Scopus citations


With the development of new surgical techniques and immunosuppressive drugs, the demand for organs and donors has outpaced the supply, despite widespread legal recognition of brain death. According to a 1982 estimate, 'out of some 20,000 potential donors - young or middle-aged patients classified as brain dead - only 2500 actually gave their organs.' Although many explanations have been offered for this phenomenon, little attention has been given to the disturbing effects of organ-retrieval surgery on staff members in the intensive care unit and operating room - the health professionals who are most involved. Underlying the disturbance felt by staff members are concerns that organ donors are not dead, despite a declaration of brain death, and that the organ-recovery process itself is somehow disrespectful and may indeed kill the donor. By ignoring these concerns, we may unwittingly magnify societal resistance to wider participation in organ donation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)321-324
Number of pages4
JournalNew England Journal of Medicine
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1985
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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