Organ Transplantation and Ethics
When looking on the face of it, there seems to be little reason to question the ethics behind the idea of transplanting organs. Transplanting organs is arguably one of the greatest achievements of today. Tens of thousands of people are given a chance to start a new life through the selflessness of others. Even though this is the way things look, unfortunately right under the surface lurks a jungle of ethical dilemmas and controversies which have threatened to undermine the entire practice of transplanting organs.
According to Chadwick and Schuklenk, organ transplantation is the surgical removal of a body organ, such as a kidney, from one individual (the organ donor) and placement of the organ in another individual for the purpose of improving the health of the recipient. (393). The first successful transplant was done among identical twins in 1954 and in fraternal twins in 1957. The first heart transplant, although unsuccessful, took place in 1967. The patient had died due to rejection of the organ. Since then, anti-rejection drugs led to the successful transplants between non relatives. Today, many different types of transplants are used. They include liver, kidney, heart, lung, and even transplants of tissues in the brain.
There are three different sources as to where a recipient may receive his/her donor organ. Organs may come from what is known as live human donors. (This is when the organ(s) being donated comes from a living person.) Live donors always have the right to refuse whether or not they would like to donate their organs. Usually, it is more stressful on a person to make a decision of "no" when the person needing the transplant is in their own family. This may cause them to feel a burden of responsibility and maybe even guilt. Then, on the other had, there are live donors that feel we have a moral, if not legal, obligation to help others anyway that we can. (Chadwick & Schuklenk, 394)
In the article, "The World Became Flesh -- The Holy Father Speaks on Organ Transplants," Pope John Paul II speaks of the "nobility" of the decision to offer without reward a part of one's own body for the health and well-being of another person, and characterizes it as "a gesture which is a genuine act of love." (1) He also feels that considering the organs for exchange or trade must be considered morally unacceptable because when you use the body as an object, you are violating the dignity of a human person.
Secondly, organs may come from cadaver donors, (which ultimately come from dead bodies). Usually, people who are willing to donate their organs upon death carry around a donor card. This card shows the person handling the body, the deceased's wishes. Most people feel that it is unacceptable to take a person's organs without checking if they have a donor card first. This is because we like to have an interest in controlling what happens to our bodies after death. Others feel that the interest of the deceased is not nearly as relevant compared to an alive person that will not remain alive much longer without a transplant.
A third source in which we can receive transplants is through xenotransplantation. This is when the organs come from non humans. These organs usually come from non humans or animals. Animal activists feel that it is unethical to inflict pain in animals for the sake of helping a human. The shortage of human organs for transplantation has led scientists to search for new ways to help patients needing transplants. Attempts are being made to develop animal organs that can be transplanted into humans. Both pigs and baboons are being developed for transplantation.
Another ethical issue regarding organ transplants is whether or not a person should be allowed to receive a second transplant if the first one should fail. Data show that "retransplant recipients at similar levels of urgency do significantly worse than primary transplant recipients, a difference that...
Bibliography: "Organ Transplants and Donors." Encyclopedia of Applied Ethics. 1998 ed.
"Organ Transplants." Encyclopedia of Bioethics 3rd Edition. 1998 Vol 4.
Paris, John J. "Harvesting Organs from Cadavers." America 14 (2002): 9-12.
Kirkpatrick, C.D. and Jim Shamp, "Was Second Transplant a Waste of Organs?" (Herald-
Sun, 2 Mar 2003),
Of the Retransplantation of Scarce Vital Organs. 1998 Amhurst, NY: Prometheus Books,
Veatch, Robert M., "Transplantation Ethics", Washington, DC: Georgetown UP, 2000,
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