The Use of Anencephalic Organs: Historical and Ethical Dimensions

The condition of newborn infants with anencephaly, a neural tube defect, is incurable and uniformly fatal. Although physicians reached a consensus two decades ago on the appropriateness of using these infants’ organs, ethical and legal questioning has since challenged the grounds on which medical authorities justified transplantation. Advocates have proposed three conceptual strategies to warrant procuring anencephalics’ organs: redefining death, excluding the infants from possessing personhood, and intubating and ventilating them while keeping a vigil for brain death. Each of these conceptual schemes has arguable shortcomings in its construction, however; as such, the case for using anencephalic infants as sources of organs has yet to be conclusively demonstrated.

Author(s): Larry R. Churchill

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Volume 68, Issue 2 (pages 147–169)
Published in 1990