Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Dead Donor Rule Definition:

A custom of medical-legal ethics that vital organs should only be transplanted from dead patients.

In volume 25 of Bioethics, Coons and Levin write:

"Although the dead donor rule (DDR) has enjoyed a fair amount of recent discussion, it remains nearly sacrosanct among medical ethicists and physicians. Even those who argue that it is sometimes permissible to violate DDR in cases of donation after cardiac death and procurement from patients in persistent vegetative states hold that DDR is justified."

The human body contains over 25 transplantable organs including the kidneys, heart and lungs.1 To persons dying because of a failing but transplantable organs, the DDR is a mater of considerable significance.

Dubois wrote, in his 2002 article that;

"There exists no piece of legislation called the dead donor rule. The dead donor rule is an ethical norm that has been formulated in at least two ways: (1) organ donors must be dead before procurement of organs begins; (2) organ procurement itself must not cause the death of the donor.

"Only the second formulation has a foundation in law, namely, in laws prohibiting homicide, which forbid that patients be killed for any reason."

Notwithstanding the DDR, it is not an absolute rule of medicine. Much can turn on the definition of death. And as Dubois also points out, a kidney may be harvested from a healthy and very much alive patient. Conversely, doctors are reluctant to harvest a kidney from a patient in a coma or other long-term vegetative state even though to do so would not breach the dead donor rule.


  • Banks, Gloria, Legal and Ethical Safeguards: Protection of Society's Most Vulnerable Participants in a Commercialized Organ Transplant System, 21 Am. J. L. & Med. 45 (1996) [NOTE 1]
  • Coons, C. and Levin, N., "The Dead Donor Rule, Voluntary Euthanasia and Capital Punishment", 25:5 Bioethics 236-243 (2011)
  • Dubois, James, Is Organ Procurement Causing the Death of Patients?, 18 Issues L. & Med. 21 (2002-2003)
  • Menikoff, Jerry, The Importance of Being Dead: Non-Heart-Beating Organ Donation,18 Issues L. & Med. 3 (2002-2003)

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