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01/27/2018

U.S. Morbidity and Mortality Caused by the Jahi McMath Case: Less Confidence in Brain Death Is a Deterrent to Organ Donation

Surgery professor Marty Sellers and colleagues at Emory have a forthcoming piece on “Deterrents to Organ Donation.”


They recount the familiar story that because of a shortage of organs, “patients often wait years for transplantation, are at increased risk of dying on the waitlist, and have more advanced organ failure at the time of transplantation – which increases the risk of post-transplant morbidity/mortality, length of hospital stay/resource utilization, and post-transplant recovery time.


The authors further note that “a major factor limiting the number of transplants performed is lack of authorization (consent) to organ donation.” Specifically, they explore how “myths and knowledge deficiencies surrounding organ donation and transplantation” interfere with willingness to be an organ donor.

One misunderstanding concerns the “finality of brain death . . . thinking a patient can recover from brain death.” This was not as big a barrier as “concerns over getting inadequate care from paramedics and physicians if one is registered as an organ donor.” But brain death mistrust was “independently significant overall.”

It seems that the high salience and visibility of the Jahi McMath case has already increased  misunderstanding and mistrust of brain death. As the case and attention on it continue, so will misunderstanding and mistrust. In turn, that will negatively impact organ donation. Of course, if the family wins the case, distrust will increase even more significantly.  

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