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Organ Donation, Autopsies, and SIDS

Ultimately, the issue about whether a baby who died with a presumptive diagnosis of SIDS can be an organ donor is left to the laws of the local state where the baby died. In general, babies who died from SIDS can not donate heart, lungs, kidneys, etc., because of the low oxygen and/or decreased bloodflow that is presumed to have preceded or accompanied the death. This is true even if a baby is resuscitated to the point where a heart beat is obtained, but the baby is later diagnosed as "brain dead". Corneas, bone, and heart valves, however, might still be usable. In California, we have had some SIDS babies whose organs were judged to still be in good enough condition to be useful in organ donation. These donations have been allowed, and the autopsy performed on the remaining organs. If a heart works well enough that it can be transplanted, I suppose that is evidence that it was normal and not likely to be the cause of death.

I hope this helps. Thank you.

Tom Keens
Children's Hospital Los Angeles

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