Regional ethics of surgeon resuscitation for organ transplantation after lethal injury



Background: Trauma patients may present with nonsurvivable injuries, which could be resuscitated for future organ transplantation. Trauma surgeons face an ethical dilemma of deciding whether, when, and how to resuscitate a patient who will not directly benefit from it. As there are no established guidelines to follow, we aim to describe resuscitation practices for organ transplantation; we hypothesize that resuscitation practices vary regionally.

Method: Over a 3-month period, we surveyed trauma surgeons practicing in Levels I and II trauma centers within a single state using an instrument to measure resuscitation attitudes and practices for organ preservation. Descriptive statistics were calculated for practice patterns.

Results: The survey response rate was 51% (31/60). Many (81%) had experience with resuscitations where the primary goal was to preserve potential for organ transplantation. Many (90%) said they encountered this dilemma at least monthly. All respondents were willing to intubate; most were willing to start vasopressors (94%) and to transfuse blood (84%) (range, 1 unit to >10 units). Of respondents, 29% would resuscitate for ≥24 hours, and 6% would perform a resuscitative thoracotomy. Respect for patients' dying process and future organ quality were the factors most frequently considered very important or important when deciding to stop or forgo resuscitation, followed closely by concerns about excessive resource use.

Conclusion: Trauma surgeons' regional resuscitation practices vary widely for this patient population. This variation implies a lack of professional consensus regarding initiation and extent of resuscitations in this setting. These data suggest this is a common clinical challenge, which would benefit from further study to determine national variability, areas of equipoise, and features amenable to practice guidelines.