Spurred by a severe shortage of cadaveric organs, there has been a marked growth in living organ donation over the past several years. This has stimulated renewed interest in the ethics of this practice. The major concern has always been the possibility that a physician may seriously harm one person while trying to improve the well-being of another. As Carl Elliott points out, this puts the donor's physician in a difficult predicament: when evaluating a person who volunteers to donate an (...) organ, “a doctor is in the position of deciding not simply whether a subject's choice is reasonable … but whether he [the doctor] is morally justified in helping the subject accomplish it.”1 This question has become even more difficult since the introduction of living donor operations that are more risky than living kidney donation and the suggestion that volunteers at added risk may sometimes be acceptable.2 So, how can we decide when the risk is too much? (shrink)
Transplantation is now the best therapy for eligible patients with end-stage organ disease. For patients with failed kidneys, successful renal transplantation improves the quality and increases the quantity of their lives. For people with other types of organ failure, transplantation offers the only hope for long-term survival. a.
: The March 2003 issue of the Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal was devoted to cadaveric organ procurement. All the discussed proposals for solving the severe organ shortage place a higher value on respecting individual and/or family autonomy than on maximizing recovery of organs. Because of this emphasis on autonomy and historically high refusal rates, I believe that none of the proposals is likely to achieve the goal of ensuring an adequate supply of transplantable organs. An alternative approach, conscription of (...) cadaveric organs for transplantation, reverses the rank order of these priorities by placing greater value on maximizing recovery of organs than on respect for autonomy. Although conscription of organs initially may appear to be a radical and even ridiculous proposal, careful consideration reveals that it might well solve the organ shortage in an ethically acceptable way. (shrink)
Walter Glannon argues that our proposal for routine recovery of transplantable cadaveric organs is unacceptable After carefully reviewing his counterarguments, we conclude that, although some of them have merit, none are sufficiently strong to warrant abandoning this plan. Below we respond to each of Glannon's concerns.
In their recent article, Glannon and Ross remind us that family members have obligations to help each other that strangers do not have. They argue, I believe correctly, that what creates moral obligations within families is not genetic relationship but rather a sharing of intimacy. For no one are these obligations stronger than they are for parents of young children. This observation leads the authors to the logical conclusion that organ donation by a parent to her child is not optional (...) but rather a prima facie duty. However, Glannon and Ross go a step further by suggesting that because parent-to-child organ donation is a duty, it cannot be altruistic. They assert that “altruistic acts are optional, nonobligatory…supererogatory…. Given that altruism consists in purely optional actions presupposing no duty to aid others, any parental act that counts as meeting a child's needs cannot be altruistic.” Here I think the authors go too far. (shrink)
Many transplant programs are willing to provide a contrived medical excuse for potential organ donors who wish to say no but feel unable to do so publicly. The availability of these excuses is thought to facilitate freedom of choice—a necessary component of informed consent—by allowing donor candidates to bow out gracefully. In a recent editorial, Simmerling et al. discuss possible harms raised by this practice and note that there is no empirical evidence to support it. Given the importance of this (...) issue for transplant centers that accept living donors, a review of the authors' concerns is in order. After careful consideration, I conclude that although some of their points are valid, much of their analysis is flawed. (shrink)
According to Glannon and Ross, for an act to be considered altruistic, it cannot be obligatory nor motivated by expectation of self-reward. Given that parents are obligated to help their children and stand to benefit greatly from donating, the authors conclude that parent to child organ donation is not altruistic. Are they correct? I am not sure. In my view, this is a semantic question and the answer depends upon how one defines altruism. Altruism is a complex subject that means (...) different things to different people. If we say that an altruistic act is one that is performed voluntarily, is risky or costly to the actor, and is designed only to benefit others with no expectation of self-reward, then it may be difficult or impossible to identify any such acts. When one risks her own life to save a stranger, others may ask: “Did she really act solely to benefit another or was she motivated, at least in part, by a need to satisfy her conscience or a desire to feel good about herself?” This question is relevant to the motivation of living organ donors. In contrast to the authors' answer that strangers who donate organs do so only out of concern for other people, Carl Fellner argued that many living organ donors, even those who are not related to their recipients, act to benefit themselves. If Fellner is correct, and if organ donation by parents is not altruistic because of the possibility of self-reward, perhaps the same is true of organ donation by strangers. (shrink)