Saturday, 23 March 2013

Munthe on Harvesting from Living Donors

This new piece by Walter Glannon challenges the almost universally accepted Dead Donor Rule (DDR), arguing that it can be ethically permissible to harvest organs from a donor before their death, provided that this does not harm them. An interesting, and provocative, thesis. I suspect that most of those who would resist harvesting organs from living donors could in fact accept this conditional, but would hold that removing someone's vital organs is always a harm.

Christian Munthe has offered some alternatives reasons to be sceptical of Glannon's conclusions on his blog, here. Munthe accepts that Glannon is right about the ethics - it is morally permissible to remove the person's organs in this case - but points out that we cannot simply conclude, from this, that the Dead Donor Rule is unjustified. The law is a somewhat blunt instrument, so sometimes it must prohibit all actions of a certain kind because not to do so would result in harm, even if some actions of the prohibited kind are morally permissible. Relaxing the Dead Donor Rule, Munthe suggestions, might weaken socially useful prohibitions on killing in other cases, and thus the law justifiably prevents harvesting from living donors, in order to prevent greater evil.

I'm not sure what I think of this particular case - I'm inclined to agree with Munthe, but haven't yet read Glannon's piece (only Munthe's summary of it) - but it's a useful reminder of the general point that law or policy cannot simply be ethics; we need to attend to institutional matters.

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