Ethical issues in the use of anencephalic infants as organ donors

S. Shinnar, J. Arras

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


For many, the ethical issues raised in the previous sections are sufficient to justify opposition to tampering with either the dead-donor rule or the definition of death in general and the use of anencephalic infants as organ donors in particular regardless of how many organs could be procured. Others will see it as a question of balancing the relative costs and benefits of the proposal. Given the likely bad consequences and meager benefits, these protocols are difficult to justify on those grounds as well. The proposals of waiting until brain death has occurred also pose some serious, though not necessarily insurmountable, ethical problems. With supportive care, however, anencephalic infants do not become brain dead in the first week of life. Given the declining incidence of anencephaly, the issue regarding anencephalic infants will probably become moot in the next few years. As the need for organ donors continues to grow, we will undoubtedly be faced with future proposals to harvest vital organs from other 'unique' categories of dying or severely impaired patients. We believe that the current dead donor rule and the strict 'whole-brain' definition of death are sound public policy and good ethics and should remain the cornerstone of future decisions in this field.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)729-743
Number of pages15
JournalNeurologic Clinics
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1989

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology


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