Philosophy, Ethics, and Humanities in Medicine (Sep 2007)

The United States Revised Uniform Anatomical Gift Act (2006): New challenges to balancing patient rights and physician responsibilities

  • McGregor Joan L,
  • Rady Mohamed Y,
  • Verheijde Joseph L

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 2, no. 1
p. 19


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Abstract Advance health care directives and informed consent remain the cornerstones of patients' right to self-determination regarding medical care and preferences at the end-of-life. However, the effectiveness and clinical applicability of advance health care directives to decision-making on the use of life support systems at the end-of-life is questionable. The Uniform Anatomical Gift Act (UAGA) has been revised in 2006 to permit the use of life support systems at or near death for the purpose of maximizing procurement opportunities of organs medically suitable for transplantation. Some states have enacted the Revised UAGA (2006) and a few of those have included amendments while attempting to preserve the uniformity of the revised Act. Other states have introduced the Revised UAGA (2006) for legislation and remaining states are likely to follow soon. The Revised UAGA (2006) poses challenges to the Patient Self Determination Act (PSDA) embodied in advance health care directives and individual expression about the use of life support systems at the end-of-life. The challenges are predicated on the UAGA revising the default choice to presumption of donation intent and the use of life support systems to ensure medical suitability of organs for transplantation. The default choice trumps the expressed intent in an individual's advance health care directive to withhold and/or withdraw life support systems at the end-of-life. The Revised UAGA (2006) overrides advance directives on utilitarian grounds, which is a serious ethical challenge to society. The subtle progression of the Revised UAGA (2006) towards the presumption about how to dispose of one's organs at death can pave the way for an affirmative "duty to donate". There are at least two steps required to resolve these challenges. First, physicians and hospitals must fulfill their responsibilities to educate patients on the new legislations and document their preferences about the use of life support systems for organ donation at the end-of-life. Second, a broad based societal discussion must be initiated to decide if the Revised UAGA (2006) infringes on the PSDA and the individual's right of autonomy. The discussion should also address other ethical concerns raised by the Revised UAGA (2006), including the moral stance on 1) the interpretation of the refusal of life support systems as not applicable to organ donation and 2) the disregarding of the diversity of cultural beliefs about end-of-life in a pluralistic society.