An increased potential for organ donors may be found among patients with out-of-hospital cardiac arrest

Mads Anders Rasmussen, Håvard Storsveen Moen, Louise Milling, Sune Munthe, Christina Rosenlund, Frantz Rom Poulsen, Anne Craveiro Brøchner, Søren Mikkelsen*

*Corresponding author for this work

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INTRODUCTION: A prehospital system where obvious futile cases may be terminated prehospitally by physicians may reduce unethical treatment of dying patients. Withholding treatment in futile cases may seem ethically sound but may keep dying patients from becoming organ donors. The objective of this study was to characterise the prehospital patients who underwent organ donation. The aim was to alert prehospital physicians to a potential for an increase in the organ donor pool by considering continued treatment even in some prehospital patients with obvious fatal lesions or illness.

METHODS: This is a retrospective register-based study from the Region of Southern Denmark. The prehospital medical records from patients who underwent organ donation after prehospital care from 1st of January 2016-31st of December 2020 were screened for inclusion. The outcome measures were prehospital diagnosis, vital parameters, and critical interventions.

RESULTS: In the five year period, one-hundred-and-fifty-one patients were entered into a donation process in the health region following prehospital care. Sixteen patients were excluded due to limitations in data availability. Of the 135 patients included, 36.3% had a stroke. 36.7% of these patients were intubated prehospitally. 15.6% had subarachnoideal haemorrhage. 66.7% of these were intubated prehospitally. 10.4% suffered from head trauma. 64.3% of these patients were intubated at the scene. In 21.5% of the patients, the prehospitally assigned tentative diagnosis was missing or included a diverse spectrum of medical and surgical emergencies. Twenty-two patients (16.3%) were resuscitated from cardiac arrest. 81.8% were intubated at the scene.

CONCLUSION: The majority of the patients who became organ donors presented prehospitally with intracranial pathology. However, 30% of the patients that later underwent an organ donation process had other prehospital diagnoses. Among these, one patient in six had out-of-hospital cardiac arrest. Termination of treatment in patients with cardiac arrest is not uncommon in physician-manned prehospital emergency medical systems. An organ donation process cannot be initiated prehospitally but can be shut down if treatment is withheld or terminated. We contend that there is a potential for enlarging the donor pool if the decision processes in out-of-hospital cardiac arrest include considerations concerning future procurement of organ donors.

Original languageEnglish
Article number50
JournalScandinavian Journal of Trauma, Resuscitation and Emergency Medicine
Issue number1
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - 17. Aug 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s).


  • Intubation
  • Level of treatment
  • Organ donation
  • Prehospital emergency care
  • Humans
  • Tissue and Organ Procurement
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Tissue Donors
  • Out-of-Hospital Cardiac Arrest/diagnosis
  • Withholding Treatment
  • Emergency Medical Services


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