Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy

, Volume 19, Issue 4, pp 629–635 | Cite as

Organ donation after assisted death: Is it more or less ethically-problematic than donation after circulatory death?

  • Jeffrey KirbyEmail author
Review Article


A provocative question has emerged since the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision on assisted dying: Should Canadians who request, and are granted, an assisted death be considered a legitimate source of transplantable organs? A related question is addressed in this paper: is controlled organ donation after assisted death (cDAD) more or less ethically-problematic than standard, controlled organ donation after circulatory determination of death (cDCDD)? Controversial, ethics-related dimensions of cDCD that are of relevance to this research question are explored, and morally-relevant distinctions between cDAD and cDCD are identified. In addition, a set of morally-relevant advantages of one practice over the other is uncovered, and a few potential, theoretical issues specifically related to cDAD practice are articulated. Despite these concerns, the analysis suggests a counterintuitive conclusion: cDAD is, overall, less ethically-problematic than cDCDD. The former practice better respects the autonomy interests of the potential donor, and a claim regarding irreversibility of cessation of the donor’s circulatory function in the cDAD context can be supported. Further, with cDAD, there is no possibility that the donor will have negative sensory experiences during organ procurement surgery. Although the development of appropriate policy-decision and regulatory approaches in this domain will be complex and challenging, the comparative ethical analysis of these two organ donation practices has the potential to constructively inform the deliberations of relevant stakeholders, resource persons and decision makers.


Assisted death Donation after circulatory death Autonomy interests Irreversibility Morally-relevant advantages 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Bioethics, Faculty of MedicineDalhousie UniversityHalifaxCanada

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