NPR logo Keeping the Newly Dead Ready for Organ Donation

Keeping the Newly Dead Ready for Organ Donation

I've been an organ donor for a long time. I've always been of the belief that once I'm finished using my heart, lungs or whatever, if they can be of use to someone else, please, be my guest. But even I find this idea a little, well, unsettling.

It's pretty well-known that there just aren't enough donated organs to go around to all the people who need them. And until we learn how to grow them — which is, realistically, not as far off as we might think — the shortage will continue. So New York City officials have come up with an idea of how to work the odds in their favor a bit. USA Today reports that, within months, they plan to "dispatch the nation's first ambulance equipped to preserve bodies of the newly dead so that families have time to consider organ donation."

The controversial twist: Crews would swoop in and perform procedures on a corpse without consent in order to preserve the organs until the family had time to give consent for organ donation. No organs would be taken without consent.

The idea of this ambulance roaring through the streets of New York on this particular mission seems like something out of a graphic novel.

Apparently, city officials are hoping that grieving people will be rational enough to give consent for their very recently deceased loved ones' organs to be donated. It's not a totally wild theory. Any reporter who has ever covered a story involving a sudden fatality will tell you that many times the family wants to do whatever it can to preserve the memory of their loved one in a meaningful way.

But does this idea of an ambulance dispatched to keep a victim, well, "fresh," take the desire to harvest organs a step too far? Does it create an unnecessary tension between families of the deceased and the family of those needing an organ donation? Or it this a smart and useful way to take a tragic situation and turn in into something that can be life affirming?