University of Wisconsin–Madison

UWSC contributes to research on the effects on families of unsuccessful organ donation attempts at the time of death

On behalf of a University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Medicine and Public Health research team headed by vascular surgeon and medical ethicist Dr. Margaret (Gretchen) Schwarze, UWSC senior project director Ken Croes conducted in-depth interviews and facilitated focus groups that explored the harms experienced by families of unsuccessful organ donors following an irreversible loss of function of the heart and lungs (i.e., circulatory death). The in-depth interviews were conducted with family members of unsuccessful organ donors in Wisconsin; the focus groups, with professionals involved in the organ donation process (anesthesiologists, transplant surgeons, palliative care doctors, critical care professionals, and organ procurement organization personnel) at society conferences in Washington DC, Orlando, Miami, Phoenix Honolulu, and Chicago. The research results were recently published in an article titled “Harms of Unsuccessful Donation After Circulatory Death: An Exploratory Study” in the American Journal of Transplantation (doi: 10.1111/ajt.14464). According to the article, families of patients who were unable to donate organs after circulatory death reported experiencing a wide range of harms, including the waste of life-living organs, an inability to honor their loved one’s last life decision, and a compounded sense of grief in that the unsuccessful organ donation attempt happens at the same time as the death of their loved one. Little had been known and documented in the literature about the harms experienced by family members of unsuccessful organ donors at the time of circulatory death, so this was a vanguard exploratory study.