Use of corneas for transplant after self-inflicted eyeballs enucleation in the Italian law
The authors analyze from an ethical and legal point of view the case of a 37 year old man, hospitalized for four days because of a “dissociative syndrome”, who had introduced in both his orbits a portable radio antenna. Most likely, he completed the self-enuclation using his own hands. He was brought to the Ophtalmic Hospital by nurses who handed the two eyeballs to the physicians who ascertained that the corneas were intact.
Then, they performed the conservative extraction. In the following days those corneas were transplanted (keratoplasty) on two subjects on the waiting list at that hospital. The case raises the question of whether it is lawful and ethically acceptable to take, for transplant use, the corneas of a mentally incapable patient who has excised his own eyeballs.
The authors analyze the case from the angle of the Italian law and Oviedo Convention. Neither of them has a specific regulation on this topic.
It is therefore necessary to apply general principles that holdvalidfor Italy and a variety of countries worldwide. Particularly, the choice to use the corneas for transplant did not prejudice the physical integrity of the patient, who could no longer utilize his own eyeballs. His self-determination has not been affected; in fact, he was not in the position to make a conscious decision.
Additionally, the so-called “implied consent” could be applied. Therefore, the principle of human solidarity, which is the moral duty to benefit others, seems to prevail in the case at hand