Can Pacemakers Be Used Again?

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A new study published in the American Journal of Cardiology (published online 3rd September 2012) suggests that devices removed during autopsies may have enough remaining battery life to be donated and used again. Of 334 autopsies performed at the University of Pennsylvania between February 2009 and July 2011, 27 pacemakers and implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICDs) were recovered. Of those, eight devices had at least four years of battery life remaining.

Between one million and two million people die worldwide each year because they do not have access to pacemakers.

To overcome the barrier

  • Donate used pacemakers and ICDs to developing countries for free.
  • Get used devices when a person’s pacemaker or ICD is upgraded
  • Get them from funeral directors before burial.
  • Get them from hospital morgues

Legal implications

  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which oversees medical devices in the US, approves pacemakers and ICDs to be used only once.
  • Single-use devices, however, can be approved for reuse if the “safety and effectiveness” of the device can be shown after reprocessing as per FDA spokespersons.
  • To date, no pacemakers or ICDs have been approved by the FDA for reuse.
  • A study from 2011 found all but two of 40 patients, who received used pacemakers reported improved health.
  • But devices’ manufacturers do not support reuse. Medtronic and St. Jude Medical, Inc do not support the reuse or reprocessing of their products and cited concerns over cleanliness and sterilization. According to them, the integrity and performance of devices intended for single use may be compromised by reprocessing and reuse.
  • About 90% of patients with a pacemaker would donate their used devices if given the chance.