Author(s): Lesieur O, Mamzer MF, Leloup M, Gonzalez F, Herbland A
Transplantation brings sustainably improved quality of life to patients with end-stage organ failure. Persisting shortfall in available organs prompted French authorities and practitioners to focus on organ retrieval in patients withdrawn from life-sustaining treatment and awaiting cardiac arrest (Maastricht classification category III). The purpose of this study was to assess the theoretical eligibility of non-heart-beating donors dying in the intensive care unit (ICU) after a decision to withhold or withdraw life-sustaining treatment (WoWt).
We collected the clinical and biological characteristics of all consecutive patients admitted to our ICU and qualified for a WoWt procedure under the terms of the French Leonetti law governing end-of-life care during a 12-month period. The theoretical organ donor eligibility (for kidney, liver, or lung retrieval) of deceased patients was determined a posteriori 1) according to routine medical criteria for graft selection and 2) according to the WoWt measures implemented and their impact on organ viability.
A total of 596 patients (mean age: 67 ± 16 yr; gender ratio M/F: 1.6; mean SAPS (Simplified Acute Physiology Score) II: 54 ± 24) was admitted to the ICU, of which 84 patients (mean age: 71 ± 14 yr, 14% of admissions, gender ratio M/F: 3.2) underwent WoWt measures. Eight patients left the unit alive. Forty-four patients presented a contraindication ruling out organ retrieval either preexisting admission (n = 20) or emerged during hospitalization (n = 24). Thirty-two patients would have been eligible as kidney (n = 23), liver (n = 22), or lung donors (n = 2). Cardiopulmonary support was withdrawn in only five of these patients, and three died within 120 minutes after withdrawal (the maximum delay compatible with organ viability for donor grafts).
In this pilot study, a significant number of patients deceased under WoWt conditions theoretically would have been eligible for organ retrieval. However, the WoWt measures implemented in our unit seems incompatible with donor organ viability. A French multicenter survey of end-of-life practices in ICU may help to identify potential appropriate organ donors and to interpret nation-specific considerations of the related professional, legal, and ethical frameworks.