Organ Harvesting’s Troubled Past — and Complicated Present

At an international conference on kidney transplantation in 1963, a disagreement broke out about exactly when a patient should be considered dead enough to become an organ donor. One doctor stood up, angrily declaring that he was not “going to just wait around for the medical examiner to declare the patient dead. I’m just going to take the organ.” The sentiment wasn’t as shocking as it sounds; there weren’t any solid criteria for brain death at the time, and many doctors were asking why they should wait on the dead and dying to save the living.

Medicine has long been shadowed by the specter of the resurrection men who dug up and raided recently buried coffins in the dead of night to supply 19th century…



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