The COVID-19 pandemic and organ donation and transplantation: ethical issues

BMC Medical Ethics 22 (1):1-10 (2021)
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Abstract

BackgroundThe COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the health system worldwide. The organ and tissue donation and transplantation (OTDT) system is no exception and has had to face ethical challenges related to the pandemic, such as risks of infection and resource allocation. In this setting, many Canadian transplant programs halted their activities during the first wave of the pandemic.MethodTo inform future ethical guidelines related to the COVID-19 pandemic or other public health emergencies of international concern, we conducted a literature review to summarize the ethical issues.ResultsThis literature review identified three categories of ethical challenges. The first one describes the general ethical issues and challenges reported by OTDT organizations and transplantation programs, such as risks of COVID-19 transmission and infection to transplant recipients and healthcare professionals during the transplant process, risk of patient waitlist mortality or further resource strain where transplant procedures have been delayed or halted, and resource allocation. The second category describes ethical challenges related to informed consent in the context of uncertainty and virtual consent. Finally, the third category describes ethical issues related to organ allocation, such as social considerations in selecting transplant candidates.ConclusionThis literature review highlights the salient ethical issues related to OTDT during the current COVID-19 pandemic. As medical and scientific knowledge about COVID-19 increases, the uncertainties related to this disease will decrease and the associated ethical issues will continue to evolve.

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