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Organs and organisations: Situating ethics in organ donation after circulatory death in the UK

Cooper, J. ORCID: 0000-0002-3295-8593 (2018). Organs and organisations: Situating ethics in organ donation after circulatory death in the UK. Social Science and Medicine, 209, pp. 104-110. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2018.05.042


Controlled organ donation after circulatory death (DCD) has recently been revived in the UK, as part of attempts to increase organ donation rates. The re-introduction of DCD has subsequently become the focus of bioethical controversy, since it necessitates intervening in the care of dying patients to obtain quality donor organs. Transplant policy responses to these concerns have generated new legal and ethical guidelines to address uncertainties around DCD, producing claims that the UK has overcome’ the ethical challenge of DCD. In contrast, by drawing on Lynch's call to ‘respecify’ ethics, this paper argues that ethics in DCD cannot be reduced to abstract directives for practice, but, instead, are composed and dealt with as an organisational problem. To do this, I utilise data from an ethnographic study examining the production of the ‘minority ethnic organ donor’ within UK organ donation settings; in particular, the data pertains to a case hospital which was in the process of developing a DCD programme during the period of fieldwork. Findings show that the ethics of DCD are encountered as practical sets of problems, constructed in relation to particular institutional locales. I describe how these issues are worked-around by creating conditions to make DCD organisationally possible, and through the animation of standard procedures into acceptable forms of practice. I argue that ethics in DCD go far beyond normative bioethical principles, to encompass concerns around: the reputation of hospital Trusts, public perceptions of organ donation, the welfare of potential donor families, and challenges to the work of health professionals caring for dying patients. The paper enriches understanding of ethics in science and medicine by showing how ethics are assembled and negotiated as a practical-organisational concern, and calls for further examination of how DCD gets constructed as a potential problem and is made to happen in practice.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: © 2018, Elsevier. This manuscript version is made available under the CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 license
Publisher Keywords: United Kingdom; Organ donation; Transplantation; Death and dying; Ethics; Ethnography; Clinical guidelines; Health professional practice; Organisations
Subjects: R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine > RA0421 Public health. Hygiene. Preventive Medicine
R Medicine > RC Internal medicine
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences
Text - Accepted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.

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