Tough Choices

Organ donation is very much a twentieth century concept. The procedure presupposes knowledge of the chemicals required to suppress the body’s rejection of foreign tissue. In the Middle Ages, Christianity was opposed to bodily dissection, and scientists had to conduct their anatomical investigations in secret to avoid condemnation by the church.

A thought experiment concerning organ harvesting is used to make an ethical point. Suppose a fellow named Jim is dying. In the same hospital with him are five other patients in need of the healthy organs Jim possesses. Jim’s death is inevitable, but won’t occur for another month. All five of the others are expected to die within the week. Is it ethical to speed up Jim’s inevitable demise to save the other five? Jim himself is unwilling to have his organs harvested prior to his natural death. This displays the conflict between Utilitarianism and the Hippocratic Oath.



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