Baby Theresa and The Ethics of Organ Donation

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About this sample

About this sample


Words: 843 |

Pages: 2|

5 min read

Published: Sep 12, 2023

Words: 843|Pages: 2|5 min read

Published: Sep 12, 2023

Table of contents

  1. Baby Theresa's Case: A Complex Ethical Quandary
  2. The Definition of Death
    Organ Donation
    Beneficence vs. Non-Maleficence
  3. Organ Donation Ethics
  4. Autonomy
  5. Applying Ethical Principles to Baby Theresa's Case
  6. Autonomy
  7. Living Organ Donation: Complex Ethical Considerations
  8. Risk-Benefit Analysis
    Informed Consent
    Alternative Options
  9. Conclusion

The case of Baby Theresa, a newborn born with anencephaly in 1992, ignited a profound ethical debate regarding organ donation, the definition of death, and the boundaries of medical intervention. This essay delves into the ethical dilemmas surrounding Baby Theresa's case, examines the ethical principles pertinent to organ donation, and scrutinizes the complexities of living organ donation, with a focus on risk-benefit analysis and undue influence.

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Baby Theresa's Case: A Complex Ethical Quandary

Baby Theresa's case was a poignant illustration of the complexities surrounding organ donation and end-of-life decisions. Born with anencephaly, a condition characterized by the absence of a major portion of her brain, her situation was medically dire. However, several ethical dilemmas emerged that required careful consideration.

The Definition of Death

One of the central ethical challenges in Baby Theresa's case was the definition of death. Traditional criteria for declaring death, such as the cessation of brain and heart activity, posed a unique challenge. Baby Theresa's brain stem, responsible for vital functions like breathing, remained intact. This raised profound questions about whether she could be ethically and legally declared dead while her body continued to exhibit signs of life.

Organ Donation

The next ethical dilemma revolved around organ donation. Baby Theresa's parents, with empathy and altruistic intent, wished to donate her organs, primarily her kidneys, to other infants in need. This presented a moral conundrum: is it ethically justifiable to sacrifice one life to save others, especially when the life in question had a limited prognosis?

Beneficence vs. Non-Maleficence

Another ethical quandary that arose was the conflict between the principles of beneficence and non-maleficence. Beneficence, which emphasizes doing good, was evident in the potential benefits that could arise from organ transplantation. Saving the lives of other infants through organ donation was an altruistic act rooted in the principle of beneficence. However, non-maleficence, which entails avoiding harm, raised concerns about whether organ donation might hasten Baby Theresa's death, potentially causing harm to her.

Organ Donation Ethics

Organ donation ethics encompass a set of principles that guide decisions surrounding the procurement and allocation of organs. These principles include autonomy, beneficence, non-maleficence, and justice.


The principle of autonomy asserts that individuals have the right to make decisions about their own bodies. In the case of Baby Theresa, the autonomy shifted to her parents, who had to decide what they believed was best for their child, given her condition.


Beneficence, the principle of doing good, is central to organ donation ethics. Organ transplantation holds the potential to benefit recipients by offering them a chance at a longer and healthier life. This aligns with the principle of beneficence.


Non-maleficence, or the duty to do no harm, became complex in Baby Theresa's case. While organ donation may have benefitted other infants, it raised ethical concerns about whether it might harm Baby Theresa by hastening her death.


Justice demands fairness and equitable distribution. In organ transplantation, it is imperative to allocate organs justly, prioritizing patients based on need rather than discriminatory factors. The principle of justice is vital in maintaining public trust in the transplant system.

Applying Ethical Principles to Baby Theresa's Case

Applying these ethical principles to Baby Theresa's case highlights the complexities involved in making such decisions.


Baby Theresa's parents exercised their autonomy in deciding to donate her organs. Their decision was an expression of what they believed was in the best interest of their child.


From the perspective of beneficence, organ donation could be viewed as an altruistic endeavor to do good by potentially saving the lives of other infants in need.


The principle of non-maleficence posed a dilemma. While organ donation could benefit others, it raised concerns about whether it might harm Baby Theresa by accelerating her inevitable death.


Justice calls for the fair allocation of organs. In Baby Theresa's case, the focus was on ensuring that organ transplantation adhered to just and equitable principles.

Living Organ Donation: Complex Ethical Considerations

The case of Baby Theresa also sheds light on the broader issues related to living organ donation, especially when considering infants.

Risk-Benefit Analysis

Living organ donation, whether from adults or infants, demands a rigorous risk-benefit analysis. Donors face inherent risks associated with surgery and potential long-term health effects. This analysis becomes even more complex when considering infants as donors, as their capacity to provide informed consent is absent.

Informed Consent

Ensuring that donors, or in the case of infants, their parents or legal guardians, provide informed consent free from undue influence or coercion is a pivotal ethical consideration in living organ donation.

Alternative Options

Living organ donation should be reserved for situations where there are no acceptable alternatives. This underscores the importance of thoroughly exploring all available options before resorting to living donation, especially when infants are involved.

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The case of Baby Theresa serves as a compelling example of the ethical dilemmas that can arise in the context of organ donation, the definition of death, and the principles guiding medical intervention. While ethical principles provide a framework for analysis, the nuances of each case must be considered carefully. Moreover, the complexities of living organ donation, with a focus on risk-benefit analysis and undue influence, highlight the profound responsibilities healthcare providers and parents bear in making decisions that impact the lives of vulnerable individuals.

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This essay was reviewed by
Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

Cite this Essay

Baby Theresa and the Ethics of Organ Donation. (2023, September 12). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 23, 2024, from
“Baby Theresa and the Ethics of Organ Donation.” GradesFixer, 12 Sept. 2023,
Baby Theresa and the Ethics of Organ Donation. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 23 Jun. 2024].
Baby Theresa and the Ethics of Organ Donation [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2023 Sept 12 [cited 2024 Jun 23]. Available from:
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