Ethicists Debate Ambulance for Organs

Will a plan for organ recovery ambulances give living patients the short shrift?

ByABC News
May 9, 2008, 1:41 PM

May 9, 2008 — -- Ethicists and emergency medicine experts are raising concerns over New York City's plan to dispatch the first ambulance service in the country equipped to preserve the organs of the newly deceased.

They question whether the organ-preserving ambulances will create tension among EMTs who may be charged both to save lives and to preserve organs for reuse.

The aim of the Rapid Organ Recovery Ambulance service, city officials say, is to buy precious time for families to decide whether they want their loved ones' organs to be donated to needy patients.

New York City plans to start the service rolling within a month. And the plan, which has already received federal funding, is being eyed as a possibility by other emergency medical departments.

The services provided by such ambulances -- namely, efforts to save the organs of the newly dead without direct consent -- have some concerns among some experts.

"Will raising organ donation follow pronouncement of death, or will people come to know that the organ donation ambulance has been sent, making them wonder if their relative got a full press of rescue care?" said Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. "This is called violating the dead donor rule -- no organ donation [discussion] raised prior to pronouncement of death."

Emergency medicine experts also have questions about the service but see real benefits as well.

"I am fully in favor of the concept of this ambulance; it may very well make more organs available for transplant and thus improve the lives of many people for every deceased person they transport," said Dr. Richard O'Brien, spokesman for the American College of Emergency Physicians.