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The Moral Status of Preferences for Directed Donation: Who Should Decide Who Gets Transplantable Organs?



Bioethics has entered a new era: as many commentators have noted, the familiar mantra of autonomy, beneficence, nonmaleficence, and justice has proven to be an overly simplistic framework for understanding problems that arise in modern medicine, particularly at the intersection of public policy and individual preferences. A tradition of liberal pluralism grounds respect for individual preferences and affirmation of competing conceptions of the good. But we struggle to maintain (or at times explicitly reject) this tradition in the face of individual preferences that we find distasteful, suspect, or even repugnant, especially where the broader social good or respect for equality is at stake. Directed donation presents us with such a dilemma: can we uphold the right of self-determination through respect of individual preferences regarding disposition of transplantable organs while at the same time maintaining an allocation system that reflects values of equity and justice claimed to underlie the socially negotiated practice of transplantation? Or are some preferences simply to be deemed unethical and not respected, even if that leads to a reduction in the number of transplantable organs available and to an apparent disregard for the autonomous decisions of the recently deceased?



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