Intensive Care Medicine

, Volume 32, Issue 5, pp 700-707

First online:

Obstacles to organ donation in Swedish intensive care units

  • Margareta A. SannerAffiliated withDepartment of Public Health and Caring Sciences, Unit of Health Services Research, Uppsala University Email author 
  • , Anders NydahlAffiliated withDepartment of Anaesthesiology and Intensive Care, Örebro University Hospital
  • , Peter DesatnikAffiliated withDepartment of Anaesthesiology and Intensive Care, Helsingborg Hospital
  • , Magnus RizellAffiliated withDepartment of Surgery, Sahlgrenska Academy

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To identify obstacles to organ donation in Swedish intensive care units.


A survey exploring attitudes and experiences of organ donation activities was sent to half of all anaesthetists and all neurosurgeons in Sweden (n = 644). Total response rate was 67%; 69% from the anaesthetists and 54% from the neurosurgeons.


Neurosurgeons had more experiences of caring for potential donors and requesting donation than anaesthetists. Twenty-seven percent of the anaesthetists were not confident with clinical neurological criteria for brain incarceration. Nine per cent found donation activities solely burdensome, and 14% wanted an external team to take over the donation request. A quarter regarded the request definitely as an extra load on the family, and more than half of the respondents had refrained from asking in emotionally strained situations. Forty-nine per cent had a neutral approach to relatives when requesting donation while 38% had a pro-donation approach. Thirty-six per cent terminated ventilator treatment for a potential donor without waiting for total brain infarction. Lack of resources in the ICUs resulted in not identifying a possible donor according to 29% of respondents. Knowing the prior wish of the deceased was regarded as the single most important factor that facilitated the work with organ donation for the intensivists.


The identified obstacles (neutral approach of donation request, ethical problems concerning the potential donor and the relatives, varying competence in diagnosing total brain infarction, and lack of intensive care bed resources) require tailored efforts in order to increase organ donation. Checking these factors can be used as a quality control when analysing donation activities at hospitals.


Organ donation Intensive care Non-therapeutic ventilation Attitudes Medical ethics