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What is organ donation after cardiac death?

In the circumstance of devastating neurological injury or terminal illness, some patients and/or families may opt to limit or withdraw artificial life supporting medications or devices. When a family decides to take a patient off life support, the patient may be eligible to donate his or her organs once the heart stops beating. This type of donation is called donation after cardiac death.

After a family has decided to withdraw care, a physician will contact the organ donor network (it is mandatory federal law that the organ donor network is called after such discussions). The organ donor network will screen the patient for eligibility and speak to the family if the network believes that the patient is a suitable candidate.

If the family consents for donation, life sustaining machines will be disconnected in an operating room. The family may be present in the operating room during withdrawal of artificial life support if they wish. Once the machines are disconnected, if the patient's heart stops beating within 60 minutes, the organs can be recovered for transplant. Typically, liver, kidney, lungs, pancreas and tissues can be used after DCD.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.