The ethics of extracorporeal membrane oxygenation in brain-dead potential organ donors

Anne L. Dalle Ave*, Dale Gardiner, David M. Shaw

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

14 Citations (Web of Science)


Organ-preserving extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (OP-ECMO) is defined as the use of extracorporeal support for the primary purpose of preserving organs for transplantation, rather than to save the patient's life. This paper discusses the ethics of using OP-ECMO in donation after brain determination of death (DBDD) to avoid the loss of organs for transplantation. We review case reports in the literature and analyze the ethical issues raised. We conclude that there is little additional ethical concern in continuing OP-ECMO in patients already on ECMO if they become brain dead. The implementation of OP-ECMO in hemodynamically unstable brain-dead patients is ethically permissible in certain clinical situations but requires specific consent from relatives if the patient's wish to donate is not clear. If no evidence of a patient's wish to donate is available, OP-ECMO is not recommended. In countries with presumed consent legislation, failure to opt out should be considered as a positive wish to donate. If a patient is not-yet brain-dead or is undergoing testing for brain death, OP-ECMO is not recommended. Further research on OP-ECMO is needed to better understand the attitudes of professionals, families, and lay people to ensure agreement on key ethical issues. ? 2016 Steunstichting ESOT.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)612-618
JournalTransplant International
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2016


  • brain death
  • ethics
  • extracorporeal membrane oxygenator
  • organ preservation
  • transplantation

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