The Ethics of Heparin Administration to the Potential Non-Heart-Beating Organ Donor

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The increasing need and limited sources for organs has stimulated a renewed interest in non-heart-beating organ donation (NHBOD). NHBOD is the donation of organs from cadavers that have been declared dead by cardiopulmonary criteria. Emerging protocols for heparin administration to the potential non-heart-beating organ donor (NHBD) deserve scrutiny. This topic is presented within a limited discussion of organ donation in general. The definition of death has been refined to its present state because of the need for clear parameters in light of a desire to procure organs for transplant. The administration of heparin to the NHBD is intended to prevent the formation of blood clots in the kidneys and liver. Heparin at high doses is clearly not given for the benefit of the patient, and some professionals are concerned that administration may hasten death. Nurses are guided by codes that require the consideration of the ethical principles of autonomy, informed consent, beneficence, and justice while providing compassionate care. An eagerness to procure viable organs for positive transplant outcomes must not be the guiding force in protocols that allow the administration of heparin to the potential NHBD. Heparin administration is supported for these donors within specific parameters.

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