I'm doing some research and am curious if a stillborn infant can be an organ donor (specifically for the heart).

Under what parameters would a recipient be able to receive them in terms of the stillborn's type of death? Is there a cut off of the age of the recipient that the heart would be too small?

This is the article I read about the donation: https://www.nbcnews.com/health/kids-health/littlest-donors-neonatal-organ-donation-offers-hope-tragedy-n51436

Any guidance is appreciated! Thank you in advance.

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    Welcome to MedicalSciences.SE Even if stillborn children can donate, there are a few criteria which need to be met. Brain death is permanent and irreversible. It is a legal definition of death. However, the vital organs such as the heart, lungs, liver, pancreas and kidneys can be kept viable for a few days if supported by artificial or mechanical support. May 12, 2020 at 14:57
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    Doesn't the NBC article answer your question(s) though? May 13, 2020 at 13:40
  • Looking for more on the science of how this could be done. Can a neonatal heart donor only go to a neonatal recipient? May 16, 2020 at 7:16

1 Answer 1


Practically it is not possible to use a still born heart. One would have to monitor the exact time of death when the heart stops in utero, then retrieve the still born by caesarean section, then harvest the heart to resuscitate it, and keep it alive long enough to match for a donor and so forth. There isn't enough time.

Normally beating hearts are harvested from brain dead people for heart transplantation so that there's no need to resuscitate a dead heart.

Experimentally dead hearts have been used but this involved removing the heart 5 minutes after death in an adult.

Currently, donor hearts are taken from brain dead patients whose hearts are still beating, which limits the number of hearts available for transplant.

But the donor hearts used for these world-first transplants had been dead for at least 20 minutes, and were revived using a ground-breaking preservation fluid before being successfully transplanted into patients with heart failure.


  • Gotcha -- what about the case of anencephalic infants? This, of course, is an ethically re grey area, but could it work medically? repository.library.georgetown.edu/handle/10822/556866 May 12, 2020 at 22:45
  • Biologically feasible, ethically impossible. May 12, 2020 at 23:01
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    @GrahamChiu I hope you mean "ethically impossible in today's USA political climate." and further that you're referring strictly to anencephalopaths who are still breathing on their own. May 13, 2020 at 15:11

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