How Young Is Too Young to Be a Living Donor?

Authors

  • M. Campbell,

    Corresponding author
    1. Bioethics Programme, University Health Network, Toronto, ON, Canada
    2. Multi Organ Transplant Program, University Health Network, Toronto, ON, Canada
    3. Joint Centre for Bioethics, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
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  • L. Wright,

    1. Bioethics Programme, University Health Network, Toronto, ON, Canada
    2. Joint Centre for Bioethics, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
    3. Faculty of Medicine, Department of Surgery, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
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  • R. A. Greenberg,

    1. Joint Centre for Bioethics, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
    2. Bioethics Department, The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, ON, Canada
    3. Department of Family and Community Medicine, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
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  • D. Grant

    1. Multi Organ Transplant Program, University Health Network, Toronto, ON, Canada
    2. Faculty of Medicine, Department of Surgery, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
    3. Transplant Centre, The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, ON, Canada
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Abstract

Assessing people in adolescence and early adulthood who wish to become living organ donors (LDs) provides unique challenges. In several Canadian provinces, 16-year-old can legally consent to living organ donation. While the World Health Organization states that adolescence corresponds roughly to the ages of 10–19 years, parts of the brain associated with judgment continue to develop into the mid-20s. Therefore, it is legally possible for some young people to donate organs before their capacity to judge the benefits and risks of surgery has fully matured. Potential young living donors (YLDs) may be financially and/or psychologically dependent on their recipients (e.g. parents), which can make it difficult to determine if the YLD's donation is voluntary. This paper suggests ways to manage three ethical challenges in the use of young people as LDs: (1) determining the YLD's ability to appreciate the consequences of living organ donation, (2) determining whether the YLD's donation is voluntary and (3) evaluating the unique risks and benefits to the YLD. We conclude that there are compelling ethical reasons to offer the opportunity of living donation to selected young people. A thorough and fair evaluation process can address social, emotional and developmental issues associated with YLDs.

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