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When applying for a drivers license (at least in California) one is given the option to be an organ donor in the event of their death. Is such a decision moral considering the control of your organs and whom they are given to is uncontrolled?

asked May 07 '11 at 16:55

JK%20Gregg's gravatar image

JK Gregg ♦

edited May 07 '11 at 18:10

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

I actually think it's a more interesting question to ask whether it's moral to withhold permission for your organs to be donated. Since they can be of such immense value to others, you'd have to have a strong value in keeping them to make withholding permission moral. Personally, I can't think of any rational value I would have in keeping them. That is, all of the conventional reasons I can think of are all irrational (e.g., religious, overt sentimentality, etc.), but I'm interested to hear if someone has a strong opinion otherwise.

(May 08 '11 at 15:24) Andrew Miner ♦ Andrew%20Miner's gravatar image

I imagine, once you are dead, your whole value system is a non-issue. So I can't see how it matters how your body is disposed of since you're dead and can't really care. The only scenario I can come up with is you might hold in some high regard something that could use your organs. For example, you might have family or friends requiring a transplant and bequeath organs in your will to them. Or you might hold biological sciences in high regard and bequeath your body to a science institute for their use.

But other than that, morality suggests that you acted in your own best interests and once you're dead you have no further interests.

answered May 08 '11 at 03:51

Douglas%20Thom's gravatar image

Douglas Thom ♦

Organ donation is a very narrow, concrete ethical issue in the context of so many other, far bigger issues today, such as altruism versus individualism, mysticism versus reason, freedom versus statism, how best to fight terrorism, whether or not the U.S. faces the prospect of hyper-inflation and monetary collapse in the coming years, and so on. Yet, it is also true that:

  • There are "publicly owned" roads in California (and probably everywhere in the U.S.);
  • There is a government run system of licensing for all who seek to drive motor vehicles on "public" roads in California (and probably everywhere in the U.S.);
  • There is a checkbox on applications for California driver's licenses indicating whether or not the licensee has authorized organ donation after his death;
  • When someone dies, authorities need to know promptly if organ donation has been authorized;
  • Modern medical technology allows the organs of recently deceased persons to be reused by those who are still living, and can benefit the living enormously.

    How, then, should one decide how to respond when offered California's organ donation checkbox?

    First, there is no moral obligation whatsoever to allow one's organs to be resued by others. If one doesn't want to allow it, one doesn't have to. The California checkbox still respects that choice. One does not need a justification for not checking the authorization box, such as a claim that checking the box would be immoral.

    The main moral concern mentioned in the question is the nature of the governmental authorities and the issue of "aiding and abetting" improper government activities ("sanction of the victim"). If one especially wants to allow reuse of one's organs, the California checkbox is an extremely helpful way to do it. One could also carry a non-government card or necklace tag stating that one has authorized organ donation. I would not fault such a person for checking the California driver's license box, if one wants to allow resue of one's organs at all, as long as organ donation never becomes legally mandatory, and never comes to be regarded as morally obligatory in any way.

    On the other hand, if the checkbox is only the first step toward a plan to make organ donation mandatory in the future, then refusing to mark the checkbox could be an entirely valid act of protest.


    There is an additional issue raised in one of the answers and reiterated in one of the comments (but wasn't part of the original question):
    ... morality suggests that ... once you're dead you have no further interests.
    It is not clear that the original question intended to imply that there is no moral justification or right to deny others from access to the body parts of someone who has died, but it has been raised now by others. The essential question, then, is not: "In the event of death, is it moral to be an organ donor?" The essential question is: 'In the event of death, is it moral not to be an organ donor?"

    If this is the essence of the question, it goes far beyond body parts. It would apply to all of one's property, as well. In effect, the question is: by what moral right should others be denied access to the property and wealth of someone who has died?

    The answer is: by the deceased person's right to life. His property -- and his body parts -- are his, both during his lifetime and, by the principles of estate and inheritance, after his death.

    If the connection to the right to life is unclear to anyone, a far more extensive discussion of why man has any rights at all will be needed, and is provided in the literature of Objectivism.

    Consider also the question of who would have access to a dead person's property. By what right is anyone other than a dead person himself (as expressed in a will or other equivalent instrument) entitled to decide what should be done with a dead person's property, including his body parts? It is well established in American legal theory that property rights do not end at death. The wishes of the dead person must be respected, insofar as those wishes can be ascertained and are reasonable. The same is true (perhaps even more so) in regard to one's body parts.

    In a state of nature, it is commonplace for other animals freely to "help themselves" to whatever they can rip out of an animal that has died, in a vigorous feeding frenzy. Humans overwhelmingly find it abhorrent for dead humans to be treated so casually, as if all value they might have had as living humans means nothing to anyone after their death.

  • answered May 08 '11 at 10:43

    Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

    Ideas for Life ♦

    edited May 09 '11 at 03:15

    I'd say is is definitely moral unless you have some specific reason to believe your organs will be used in a way which is against your values. While it is true that you aren't permitted full rights over their eventual use (as you should), it is still true in today's system that they are used to further the life of other human beings. As a general statement, it is proper to hold benevolence toward mankind unless some specific person proves he doesn't deserve it.

    answered May 08 '11 at 15:21

    Andrew%20Miner's gravatar image

    Andrew Miner ♦

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    Asked: May 07 '11 at 16:55

    Seen: 1,178 times

    Last updated: May 09 '11 at 03:15