The ethics of living donor lung transplantation

Winfield J Wells, Mark L Barr
Thoracic Surgery Clinics 2005, 15 (4): 519-25
A constant awareness of the risk to the living donors must be maintained with any living donor organ transplantation program, and comprehensive short- and long-term follow-up should be strongly encouraged to maintain the viability of these potentially life-saving procedures. There has been no perioperative or long-term mortality following lobectomy for living lobar lung transplantation, and perioperative risks associated with donor lobectomy seem to be similar to those seen with standard lung resections. These risks might increase, however, if the procedure is offered on an occasional basis and not within a well-established program. The long-term outcomes and functional effects of lobar donation raise important questions that are unanswered. This has proved difficult to follow closely, because of the fact that many donors live far from the transplant medical center and are reluctant to return for routine follow-up evaluation. The death of a recipient can further exacerbate this situation, because there is reluctance to insist on further routine examinations for a grieving donor. Prospective donors must be informed of the morbidity associated with lobectomy and the potential for mortality, and for potential negative recipient outcomes in regard to life expectancy and quality of life after transplantation. Although cadaveric transplantation must be considered because of the risk to the donors, living lobar lung transplantation should continue to be used under properly selected circumstances. The results reported by the authors' group and others are important if this procedure is to be considered as an option at more pulmonary transplant centers in view of the institutional, regional, and international differences in the philosophic and ethical acceptance of the use of living organ donors for transplantation. The integration of ethical discussion into topics that are relevant and of interest to thoracic surgeons, such as living lung donation, is a recent and welcome event. Many of the clinical situations that thoracic surgeons deal with on a daily basis have important and complex ethical implications, and there has been little training to deal effectively with these issues. This is changing as invited discussions on ethically compelling topics are finding their way into journals and the programs of national meetings. What may be of more importance, however, is the development of an ethics curriculum for those training in the specialty. The core curriculum recommended by the Thoracic Surgical Directors Association (which represents the leadership of the 89 approved residency training programs in the United States) has one lecture pertaining to ethics out of the several hundred offerings in its requisite curriculum. It is hoped that this will change in the near future.

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