The Ethics of Transplants: Why Careless Thought Costs Lives

Wayne Sumner writes:

Organ transplants save lives: 1107 of them in the UK between March 2011 and April 2012. But the demand for transplantable organs greatly exceeds supply. Currently, about ten thousand people in the UK are in need of a transplant and about a thousand die every year while on the waiting list. Some ways of increasing the number of available organs, such as urging people to sign up with the Organ Donor Register, are ethically unproblematic. But others raise ethical issues, or have been rejected on ethical grounds. These ethical objections are the subject of Janet Radcliffe Richards’s admirably lucid book. She believes that some widely accepted objections to organ procurement are based on mistakes in moral reasoning: the ‘careless thought’ that ‘costs lives’. Identifying and analysing these mistakes is one of her aims, but she has a broader purpose as well: to show that, as experts in moral reasoning, philosophers have a unique role in debates about public policy.

(LRB 4 July 2013)