Beating heart cadaver

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A beating heart cadaver is a human body that though dead in all medical and legal definitions is attached to a medical ventilator and retains cardio-pulmonary functions. This will keep the organs of the dead body, including the heart, functioning and alive for a few days.[1] As a result, the period of time in which the organs may be used for transplantation is extended.


Caring for a beating heart cadaver is similar to caring for a living patient. Since the brain has stopped functioning, the hormone levels and blood pressure must be regulated by intensive care unit (ICU) personnel.[2] The protocol for preserving the cadaver aims to prevent infection and maintain adequate oxygenation of tissue.[3] The cadaver's status must be continuously monitored, so that ICU staff can prevent organ failure or quickly operate to save threatened organs.[2]

Organ recovery

A beating heart cadaver is kept alive in order to keep its organs from decaying before they can be transplanted. Surgeons will remove the organs, one after the other, and have them transferred to the recipients' treating teams.[1] The entire recovery process is usually completed within four hours.[3] This process was formerly known as an "organ harvest", but the name has since changed to the milder "organ recovery."[1] Many organs can be extracted, and many lives can be saved by one body. The bodies are generally those of organ donors, who have either given first person consent to become an organ donor, presumptive consent by not explicitly declining to donate [4] or whose legal next-of-kin makes the decision to donate.[5] Some donated organs are taken from non-heart-beating donors.[6] Organs from brain deaths, however, have a better success rate, and currently most organ donation is from these deaths.[7]

Brain death and pregnancy

Pregnancy can be prolonged after brain death in order to allow the fetus to reach full-term. It is then possible to deliver the baby by means of caesarian section.[8] Cadavers have been reported to support a fetus for a period of 107 days. After delivering the baby, some cadavers have subsequently become organ donors.[9]

Social issues

Being faced with a beating heart cadaver is often a disturbing and confusing experience. Because the heart is beating and the body is warm, people may have difficulty believing the person is dead. Families often like to see the body once it has been removed from the machines and "put to rest".[3]

Cultural references

Award winning Canadian writer Colleen Murphy's play Beating Heart Cadaver had its premiere in the United Kingdom on 3 April 2011 at the Finborough Theatre, London.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Roach, Mary. Stiff: the Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. New York: W.W. Norton &, 2003. Print.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Roach, p. 170.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 "Beating Heart Cadaver." Surgery Door. Web. 4 March 2010. <>.
  4. "Are we in control of our own decisions?". So I want to show you some cognitive illusions, or decision-making illusions, in the same way. And this is one of my favorite plots in social sciences. It's from a paper by Johnson and Goldstein. And it basically shows the percentage of people who indicated they would be interested in giving their organs to donation....Turns out the secret has to do with a form at the DMV. And here is the story. The countries on the left have a form at the DMV that looks something like this. Check the box below if you want to participate in the organ donor program. And what happens? People don't check, and they don't join. The countries on the right, the ones that give a lot, have a slightly different form. It says check the box below if you don't want to participate. Interestingly enough, when people get this, they again don't check -- but now they join.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "Her Donated Organs Changed Lives of Many." San Diego News, Local, California and National News - Web. 4 March 2010. <>.
  6. "Physicians For Life - Abstinence, Abortion, Birth Control - Brain Death or NHBD." Physicians For Life - Abstinence, Abortion, Birth Control - Home. Web. 4 March 2010. <>.
  7. "Organ Donation - What Does Organ Donation After Brain Death Mean." All About Surgery-Understanding Surgery from A to Z-Surgery Information-Surgery 101. Web. 3 March 2010. <>.
  8. Bernstein, I. M.; Watson, M; Simmons, G. M.; Catalano, P. M.; Davis, G; Collins, R (1989). "Maternal brain death and prolonged fetal survival". Obstetrics and gynecology. 74 (3 Pt 2): 434–7. PMID 2761925.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Powner, DJ; Bernstein, IM (April 2003). "Extended somatic support for pregnant women after brain death". Critical care medicine. 31 (4): 1241–9. doi:10.1097/01.ccm.0000059643.45027.96. PMID 12682499.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>