In the never-ending quest for viable organs, doctors have found a way around brain death and circulatory death criteria. Transplant centers around the country are removing organ donors from life support, clamping off the blood flow to their brains, and then restarting their hearts. Thus, the organs are resuscitated and viable for transplant, but the person doesn’t wake up.
This procedure, known as normothermic regional perfusion with controlled donation after circulatory death (NRP-cDCD) allows for organ-harvesting in patients who are not brain-dead but who are not expected to survive. Life support is removed, and after the heart stops beating, doctors wait an average of 2–3 minutes to see if the heart will start up again on its own. If it doesn’t, surgery begins with clamping off the blood flow to the patient’s brain. That way, when the rest of the body is resuscitated, the brain is excluded from the returning blood flow, and the body is effectively made “brain-dead” on purpose. After the brain circulation is occluded, the rest of the body is hooked up to a cardiac bypass machine to deliver warm, oxygenated blood to the organs. According to the University of Nebraska protocol , “once blood flow to the heart is established, the heart will start beating.” The remaining organs are thus resuscitated and can be harvested for transplantation. The NRP-cDCD protocol allows for the harvesting of organs such as the heart and intestines, which would quickly become non-viable and unsuitable for transplant with previous circulatory death harvesting techniques.
Many medical professionals are uncomfortable with donation after circulatory death because they know that patients are routinely resuscitated after 2–3 minutes of cardiac arrest. Dr. Ari Joffe, a clinical professor of pediatrics and critical care at the University of Alberta, has found at least 12 patients whose hearts restarted without […]
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