(Nancy Valko, RN ALNC) – In December of 1967, the first successful heart transplant was performed in South Africa by Dr. Christian Barnard. At that time, there were no guidelines for the diagnosis of death for beating heart donors.
In September of 1968, the Report of the Ad Hoc Committee of the Harvard Medical School to Examine the Definition of Brain Death was published with the purpose of defining irreversible coma as a new criterion for death.
This was done for two stated reasons:
1. “Improvements in resuscitative and supportive measures have led to increase efforts to save those who are desperately injured. Sometimes these efforts have only partial success so that the result is an individual whose heart continues to beat but whose brain is irreversibly damaged. The burden is great on patients who suffer permanent loss of intellect, on their families, on the hospitals and on those in need of hospital beds already occupied by these comatose patients.”
2. “Obsolete criteria for the definition of death can lead to controversy in obtaining organs for transplantation.” (All emphasis added)
This report was quickly accepted by many and in 1968, the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act was passed in the US as a regulatory framework for the donation of organs, tissues and other human body parts. CONTINUE