Pacific Center for Health Policy and Ethics
Death, Life-Support and the Protection of the Unborn: The End to a Tragedy in Texas
On January 26, 2014, physicians at the John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas, disconnected Marlise Munoz from the mechanical ventilator. She’d entered the hospital’s emergency department two months earlier, brought there by ambulance after her husband found her unconscious on their kitchen floor. After two days attempting to treat her, physicians at the hosoital determined on November 28th that she met the criteria for determining death based on having lost all functions of the brain. But they didn’t pronounce her dead or cease the external support at that time because she was 14 weeks pregnant, and someone at the hospital had concluded that despite her death and her husband’s insistence that she would not want to be artificially sustained even if she were alive (but lacked any prospect of recovery), the artificial support of her biological functioning had to be continued because the Texas Advanced Directives Act renders ineffective a pregnant patient’s (or surrogate decision maker’s) directions to end life-support. Only after the District Court for Tarrant County ruled that the Act doesn’t apply to dead bodies—and ordered the hospital to pronounce her dead—were the medical interventions ceased and her body turned over to her family for burial.
Professor Alex Capron, the Pacific Center’s co-director, discusses the court decision and the questions that it leaves in doubt in a symposium on the Munoz case on the Bioethics Program blog.
The Continuing Problem of Organ Trafficking and Transplant Tourism:
Although organ transplantation has, from its earliest days in the mid-1950s, depended on altruism—originally of living, related donors, then beginning in the late-1960s of deceased donors and their next-of-kin, and in recent decades again of living donors, including those who are not related by biology or friendship with their recipients—the shortage of organs has led in some locales to the use of "donors" who are paid or coerced as well as to the use of condemned prisoners as a source for other organs as well. Such practices have been illegal in the United States since 1984 and have been condemned on a number of occasions by the World Health Assembly. Most recently, in 2010 the WHA endorsed the "WHO Guiding Principles on Human Cell, Tissue and Organ Transplantation," a revision of a document first approved in 1991 that was influential in leading many other countries to outlaw organ sales and to condemn "transplant tourism," which involves patients from wealthy countries coming to hospitals in developing countries to obtain a transplant of an organ typically sourced from a poor local resident or executed prisoner. Pacific Center Co-Director Alex Capron has continued to play a leading role in WHO's work on this topic since returning in September 2006 from directing WHO's Department of Ethics, Trade, Human Rights and Health Law. He has also been a leader in the creation and implementation of the Declaration of Istanbul, which was adopted in May 2008 as a means of expressing healthcare professionals' opposition to transplant tourism and organ trafficking. Professor Capron has addressed these topics in academic presentations on many occasions, most recently at:
· WHO and the Control of Organ Trafficking and Transplant Tourism, Harvard Law School Symposium on the Globalization of Health Care, Cambridge, MA, May 20-21, 2011, Panel on "Transplant Tourism is Different than Medical Tourism"
· The Legal and Ethical Underpinnings of Organ Transplantation, UCLA Division of Nephrology, Kidney Transplant Program, Los Angeles, CA, June 1, 2011 (click here for slides)
In addition, on April 23, 2011, Prof. Capron and Prof. Nikola Biller-Andorno of the University of Zurich published in The Lancet (377:1390-91; originally published on-line Oct.10, 2010) a short critique of the arguments advanced for giving organ vendors financial rewards. In March 2010, he joined with a number of colleagues in an article analyzing the issues raised by donation of organs after circulatory determination of death (DCDD) in patients from whom artificial life-support has been withdrawn.
Ethical Issues in Governing Biobanks: Global Perspectives
New book looks at the global ethical and regulatory issues in 'biobanks' and genetic databases.
About Pacific Center
At a time when developments in medical technology are creating moral and ethical challenges in health care at an ever increasing rate, the Pacific Center for Health Policy and Ethics is addressing some of the most critical and complex bioethical issues facing our society. Among these are patients' control over dying, new reproductive technologies including surrogate motherhood, human gene therapy and use of presymptomatic genetic screening, equitable access to health care, and ethical issues in managed care.
The Pacific Center-created in 1991 jointly by the USC Law and the USC Keck School of Medicine-brings an interdisciplinary as well as inter-institutional perspective to the study of ethical problems and health policy development. Recognizing that important issues in health care and research require the broadest possible discussion, the Pacific Center brings together experts form a wide range of fields at USC with representatives from healthcare providers, consumer groups, government, insurers, and other ethics centers.
The Pacific Center's work is enhanced by its location at the University of Southern California. This urban institution has many connections to the multiethnic community of Los Angeles, including close association with several hospitals that serve both indigent and private patients. This combination of diverse populations and hospital settings offers the Pacific Center a unique opportunity to examine the health policy choices that Americans of all cultural backgrounds make or would like to make, given adequate resources.
- Mark S. Ehrenreich Prize in Healthcare Ethics Research
Click Here to see the winners and finalists.
- "Medical Humanities" Speakers, part of the Visions and Voices: The Arts and Humanities Initiative at USC