Human Organ Donation Opinion Paper

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Ethical Opinion on
“The Richard M. De Vos Position Paper on Financial Incentives for Organ Donation”

Dr. Samuel Gregg
Acton Institute

April 17, 2003*

*Copyright 2002 © by Samuel Gregg. For permission to cite, reproduce or circulate this paper, please contact the author at sgregg@acton.org, or Acton Institute, 161 Ottawa Ave NW, Suite 301, Grand Rapids, MI 49503, USA. Ph. 1-616-454-3080 SITUATION

1. The progress and spread of transplant medicine and surgery nowadays makes possible treatment and cure for many illnesses which, up to a short time ago, could only lead to death or, at best, a painful and limited existence. This “service to life,”[1] which the donation and transplant of organs represents, shows its moral value and legitimizes its medical practice. There are, however, some conditions which must be observed, particularly those regarding donors and the organs donated and implanted. Every organ or human tissue transplant requires an explant which in some way impairs the corporeal integrity of the donor.

2. The present shortage of available organs for transplant has resulted in a number of propositions for improving the situation so as to preserve the life of those in danger of imminent death, and/or to improve the health of those who are suffering from various aliments. These propositions range from state-funding of more Organ Donation coordinators, to the establishment of a free market in organs.

3. Not all options, however, are morally acceptable. Moreover, every option must be subject to clear, coherent and rationally defensible ethical analysis. The approach used in this opinion is that of the authoritative moral teaching of the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church and the natural law tradition (specifically that articulated by the Magisterium). It does so on the basis that (a) all other approaches that purport to be based on reason alone are essentially deficient and ultimately incoherent; and (b) that the moral truth of natural law is, by definition, accessible to all. The Church thus rejects those approaches to morality, such as all forms of utilitarianism, that require people to engage in the epistemologically and intellectually impossible task of measuring and weighing all the certain and possible good and evil effects of an action.[2] To cite John Paul II, “How could an absolute obligation resulting from such debatable calculations be justified?”[3] Instead, the Catholic analysis of a policy’s moral dimension focuses upon asking whether an option is choice-worthy, or if it is excluded from upright choice by its opposition in some way to the human goods (bona humana) to which St. Thomas Aquinas says all people, religious or otherwise, are directed by the first principles of practical reasonableness,[4] the basic reasons for action which the encyclical letter Veritatis Splendor calls “fundamental human goods.”[5]

4. This opinion considers only one proposition: that is, “The Richard M. De Vos Position Paper on Financial Incentives for Organ Donation” (hereafter the Position Paper). This proposition involves the establishment of a tax incentive or an insurance benefit to be received by the designated beneficiary of a donor upon the successful transplant of the donor’s organs following the donor’s natural death. This policy encourages people to designate, unambiguously, if they wish to have their organs recovered after death with the object of an act being the saving of human life.

5. Should there be any change in the composition of the Position Paper, this opinion should be considered null and void until the author has had the opportunity to consider the ethical implications of the changes.

6. Should the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church pronounce authoritatively and specifically on the proposition articulated in the Position Paper or a similar proposition, then the author’s position should be henceforth assumed to adhere to that of the...
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