Researchers explore MAID impact on organ donation

A newly published article in the New England Journal of Medicine raises ethical questions and challenges for organ donation in cases where a patient has elected medical assistance in dying (MAID), also known as voluntary euthanasia.

Written by Dr. Ian Ball and Robert Sibbald from the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry and collaborator Dr. Robert Truog from Harvard Medical School, the commentary – Voluntary Euthanasia: Implications for Organ Donation – addresses what implications the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision to decriminalize MAID has for organ donation.

“As voluntary euthanasia becomes an accepted option for dying patients in Canada, some people choosing this practice will want to donate their organs,” the authors write in the commentary. “Because voluntary euthanasia creates organ-donation opportunities that differ from existing pathways, it may be necessary to develop new protocols specific to these patients.”

The authors raise important points for consideration including whether objecting physicians should be permitted to opt-out of participating in the transplantation of donated organs from patients who elected MAID, and whether recipients of the organs should also be informed about the source of the organs.

The authors also suggest that there should be separate clinical protocols in place for donors who choose medical assistance in dying in order to allow their organs to be preserved in the best possible way for donation.

“Some patients want to elect physician-assisted death and they also want to donate organs in the best possible condition. This raises the question of how protocols might change to allow both of these things to happen simultaneously,” Ball said.