What does the public really think about the dead donor rule?

Xavier Symons
11 Oct 2014
Reproduced with Permission

A new study in the Journal of Medical Ethics claims that the US public is in favour of waving the dead donor rule in certain circumstances. The study, produced by researchers from Florida State University College of Medicine, examined the opinions of 1056 US citizens - a sample intended to provide a rough cross-section of US society.

The researchers asked participants to complete an online survey, presenting them with a vignette of a man in a vegetative state, and asking whether it should be legal for him to donate his organs even if it causes his death. Participants were also asked more general questions, such as whether it should be legal for doctors to remove organs from consenting vegetative patients despite it causing their death, and whether they themselves would donate their organs if they were in a vegetative state.

The study found that 71% believed the patient described in the vignette should be allowed to donate his organs if he had provided an advance directive. 53% of participants said they would donate their own organs if they were in a vegetative state.

Despite this, 69% of respondents said that it was 'somewhat' or 'very important' for a patient to be dead before their lungs and heart were removed.

The authors of the study concluded, "There appears to be public support for organ donation in a scenario explicitly described as violating the dead donor rule." They do, however, acknowledge the sensitivity of respondents to questions to questions that have been personalised. The vignette on which their conclusions were based is ultimately one of these.