Think Twice Before Signing that Organ Donation Card (Guest: Heidi Klessig, M.D.)

Published November 28, 2022
You may want to rethink checking that box making you an organ donor. Unlike tissue donation, organs often need to be harvested from a live person in order to be viable for a transplant. Heidi Klessig, M.D., retired anesthesiologist, pain management specialist, and co-founder of, highlights how hospitals have harvested organs from live patients for the last few years. This procedure makes the person brain dead and then resuscitates their heart to keep blood flowing to the organs. According to Klessig, this goes against the Uniform Definition of Death Act (UDODA).
UDODA, passed in 1981, states that to declare someone legally dead, there must be irreversible cessation of cardiopulmonary function or irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain, including the brain stem. These determinations are to be made in accordance with accepted medical standards, but hospitals can never be 100 percent sure.  Klessig says there are many cases where people have been resuscitated and survived 10 minutes after the heart stopped beating, but a transplant team may begin the harvest of organs in a matter of minutes.
The procedure is banned in Australia and the American College of Physicians has asked for a pause until legal and ethical issues can be ironed out. Yet, hospitals have been vigorously pushing the procedure to increase the supply of organs which require a patient to be alive before they can be harvested.
She also discusses:
  • How hospitals can take your live organs if you are incapacitated, no family can be reached, and they determine your condition is “irreversible,” which Klessig says, “is terrifying because their interest lies in what money can be made from your organs, not what is in your best interest.” Organs can be worth about $5 million to transplant centers.  The only way to prevent this is by carrying a card:
  • How putting all resources into “live organ harvesting” has nearly eliminated research and development of alternatives to people with failing organs
  • Ethical donations (tissue after death, kidney or lobe of liver from healthy donors)