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Death of liver donor raises ethical and legal questions

Donating an organ to another person is one of the most selfless acts that one can do. In the case of some organs, such as a liver or kidney, this donation can be done by a live person who can spare a part of their organ to save another person’s life. While this choice is clearly the noble one, there are new questions being raised about the ethics of allowing this kind of donation in the wake of the death of a voluntary liver donor who suffered from fatal complications during the transplant surgery.

In this case, the wife of the victim says she had been left with a lot of questions about what happened that day in the operating room. Among those questions is whether her and her husband had been properly informed of the risks of undergoing an elective surgery to remove part of the liver. Any time a patient goes in to surgery they are entitled to information about the risks and benefits of that surgery, whether it is to remove a potentially deadly tumor or to attend to something that is not an immediate threat to the patient’s health. Without accurate information about the possible risks and rewards, patients cannot give informed consent to the procedure.

In this case, the death of the liver donor has led programs around the country to reconsider their practices. For some surgeons, this means describing the surgery in more detail to prospective donors and giving them a starker look at the potential risks. 

Source: The Boston Globe, "Donor's death shatters family, stuns surgeons," Liz Kowalczyk, Feb. 2, 2014

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Alan D. Bell
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Phone: 973-233-4291
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