Ethical considerations in live donor transplantation: should complications be tolerated?

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Purpose of review

Although living donor transplantation is considered an ethically acceptable undertaking for the purpose of saving another's life, its safety remains under investigation.

Recent findings

Although living donors undertake considerable medical risks for no direct medical benefit, the question remains whether the risks are acceptable and should be tolerated by providers and patients or whether additional interventions and safeguards are needed to reduce and/or prevent complications. By reviewing complication risk statistics and synthesizing empirical research regarding risk-taking thresholds and attitudes, this paper examines the possibilities for determining an acceptable level of complication risk for living donors. This paper also delineates the ethical tensions surrounding protecting donors from unnecessary risk versus respecting donor autonomy to accept risks, and concludes by discussing the importance of donor follow-up and the value of donor registries.


In the absence of information on long-term donor outcomes, transplant centers should take special precautions to protect prospective donors given increasing pressures to reduce the organ shortage and concerns that donors often disregard risks to themselves to save the lives of others.

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