HEC Forum 21 (1):27-53 (2009)

Jeremy Snyder
Simon Fraser University
Many people in desperate need of an organ will die on waiting lists for transplantation or face increased morbidity because of their wait. This circumstance is particularly troubling since many viable organs for transplantation go unused when individuals fail to participate in their local organ donation system. In this paper, I consider whether participating in organ transplantation should be considered a form of a rescue of others from the great harms caused by a shortage in transplantable organs. Specifically, I consider whether cadaver organ transplantation is a case of an easy rescue. If so, participation in cadaver organ transplantation will be a duty rather than a supererogatory act.1 This question is important in illuminating individual duties to participate in organ transplantation. Moreover, as I will argue, it has repercussions for community-wide policies for enrolling individuals in transplantation schemes. In the first section of this paper, I tie cadaver organ transplantation to the duty to rescue others from great harm when it is easy to do so. Given the number of persons who will die or be greatly harmed without transplanted organs, the transfer of organs upon death is seemingly similar to other, classical cases of easy rescue. In the second section, I consider objections to this proposal on the ground that cadaver organ transplantation is structurally dissimilar to classical rescue cases, especially given uncertainty over when and to whom organs will be transplanted, if they are transplanted at all. In the third section, I consider the objection that cadaver organ transplantation is a demanding, rather than easy, rescue. While I grant that cadaver organ transplantation will be demanding for some persons, I argue that there remain many cases where it will be an easy rescue. In the final section, I consider the policy implications of my argument. In particular, I argue that understanding cadaver organ transplantation as a duty should shift the debate over opt-out, opt-in, and mandatory choice procedures for participating in organ transplantation upon death. While different systems will be appropriate for different communities, understanding transplantation as a duty in some cases helps to justify an opt-out system.
Keywords Philosophy   Theory of Medicine/Bioethics   Philosophy of Medicine   Medical Law   Ethics
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1007/s10730-009-9086-9
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 71,464
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

Famine, Affluence, and Morality.Peter Singer - 1972 - Oxford University Press USA.
Famine, Affluence, and Morality.Peter Singer - 1972 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 1 (3):229-243.
A Defense of Abortion.Judith Jarvis Thomson - 1971 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 1 (1):47-66.
Famine, Affluence, and Morality.Peter Singer - 1985 - In Lawrence A. Alexander (ed.), International Ethics: A Philosophy and Public Affairs Reader. Princeton University Press. pp. 247-262.

View all 28 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Nudging in Donation Policies: Registration and Decision-Making.Douglas MacKay & Katherine Saylor - 2021 - In Solveig Lena Hansen & Silke Schicktanz (eds.), Ethical Challenges of Organ Transplantation. Bielefeld, Germany: Transcript Verlag. pp. 65-80.

View all 6 citations / Add more citations

Similar books and articles


Added to PP index

Total views
78 ( #150,186 of 2,520,772 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
9 ( #79,279 of 2,520,772 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes