Select Page

Commentary: ‘Cardiac Death’ Allows One to Kill the Organ Donor

Analysis by Dr. John Shea MD FRCP(C), Medical Advisor to

In 2006, research done by Dr. Gerald Buckberg, a cardio-thoracic surgeon and UCLA expert, demonstrated that a person can survive cardiac arrest for an average of 72 minutes if they are given the following treatment: cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, the use of a heart-lung machine to keep blood and oxygen circulating, and gradual restoration of blood and oxygen flow.

This research was done at hospitals in Alabama and Ann Arbor, Michigan and also in Germany. Of 34 patients, seven died, only two had permanent neurological changes and 25 recovered completely. One patient had been in cardiac arrest for two and a half hours. Similar results were obtained by research in Japan, Taiwan, and elsewhere in Asia.

In 1997, the Pittsburgh Protocol declared that cardiac arrest lasting two to five minutes causes 'cardiac death' and that it is ethically acceptable to remove vital organs for transplantation if a person is in cardiac arrest. The evidence provided by Dr. Buckberg and others directly contradicts this. Cardiac death was accepted according to the Pittsburgh Protocol with fanfare and approbation in Canada on January 27, 2006.

In December, 2002, Drs. M.L. Weisfeldt and L. Becker demonstrated that resuscitation was possible up to 15 minutes after cardiac arrest. It is now clear that the use of cardiac arrest as a criterion of death is no longer tenable. Will Dr. Buckberg's research be ignored by bioethicists, hospitals, and physicians as was Dr. Weisfeldt's work or will the hunt for transplant organs continue its inexorable course, as usual?

Related coverage:
Organ Donation after Cardiac Death a Danger to Critical Patients ~ Medical Professor 
New England Journal of Medicine: 'Brain Death' is not Death – Organ Donors are Alive
More Hospitals/Governments Push For Organ Transplants 5 Minutes or Less After Heart Stops 
Controversial Organ Donation Method Begins in Canada – Organs Extracted 5 Minutes after Heart Stops 
[July 10, 2009]