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Living Organ Donation Inspired Explorations In Normative Ethics Philosophy Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Philosophy
Wordcount: 1847 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Ever since the first living adult organ transplantation in 1954, organ donation continues to advance as a form of medical intervention (Pence, 2007). With its ongoing popularity, living adult organ donation inspires a variety of debates in normative ethics circles. In this essay, I am taking the opportunity to advocate for Virtue Ethics as the most ethically defensible approach to living adult organ donation.

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Virtue Ethics, unlike Utilitarianism or Deontology, promote the highest degree of personal enlightenment and, as such, ensure the highest calibre of our moral choice through maximized consistency, personal accountability, and overall highest harmony of our actions as they relate to key players in living adult organ donation (donor, recipient, doctors and society). To complete my perspective, I will reclaim the widely-accepted drawback of Virtue Ethics regarding its lack of systemized action rules (i.e. codifiability) by proposing realistic societal long-term transformations, as governed by Virtue Ethics, which would make codifiability achievable.

Living adult organ donation is an act of providing of a vital organ to an organ recipient by an organ donor for organ transplantation for the immediate purposes of either improving the quality of life of a recipient, the quality of life of both donor and recipient or saving recipient’s life (Pence, 2007). Living adult organ donation differs from cadaveric organ donation because the donor is alive, while in cadaveric organ donation the donor is brain-dead (Pence, 2007). According to the provincial organ donation agency, Trillium Gift of Life Network, there are 1487 people on waiting list for organ donation this year (Trillium Gift of Life Network, 2010). Organs that can be transplanted are liver, heart, kidney, lung, pancreas and small bowels (Trillium Gift of Life Network, 2010). The reality of the situation is that some of these people will not find a suitable donor and their health will deteriorate or they may die.

In order to truly explore the ethical journey of organ donation, I will put myself in the shoes of a potential organ donor and take a walk in the halls of Deontology, Utilitarianism and Virtue Ethics schools. Why, when and to whom would I donate my organ so that my decision is morally right for me, for the recipient, for the doctors and for society?

There is nobody that I know requiring an organ at this moment. Although I could enlist myself as a living organ donor and potentially save another human fellow, currently I choose not to. If my loved one or somebody I know and respect needed an organ right now, I would, however, donate it without hesitation.

As I walk in an organ-donor’s shoes, I enter the Deontology school and I see a representative Deontological philosopher, Kant, sitting at his work desk, surrounded by piles and piles of paper. He greets me and at the same time approves of my present choice of not being enlisted in an organ donors list. According to Kant and Deontology theory, one should never treat oneself as an object or means only, but always as an end (Pence, 2007). He goes on to share his view that if we voluntarily choose to potentially endanger our bodies by taking out organs for organ donation purposes, we are not cultivating humanity in that case because to be human means protecting your body’s integrity (Pence, 2007). Kant considers my present choice of not being enlisted as an organ donor morally right because I am not physically harming myself for the benefit of another human being, i.e. I treat myself as an end, not as means. Deontologians believe that our decisions must come from a rational and autonomous perspective of a free will in order to be morally right (Pence, 2007). Furthermore, it is not rational to harm yourself and it is always wrong to potentially harm yourself for the benefit of another human being. The final view of wrongness of organ donation is universalizable for everyone and in every situation and it would be my duty to follow such set of rules (Pence, 1998). Thus, according to Kant’s rationale, it is always morally wrong to engage in organ donation.

I disagree with Kant about what constitutes a free will and what is my moral duty. According to my upbringing, system of values and my life experiences, free will, for me, is not only consisting of a rational component, but also emotional component. If my brother needed an organ and I was a match, I would donate it.

If I act according to Kant and not donate my organ to my loved one, my action would be morally wrong for me, the recipient, doctors and the society. Firstly, the motivation behind my organ donation is the unconditional love I feel for my brother. I consult the Virtue Ethics School and in their teachings I find that unconditional love is actually a trait in the character, and if made habitual, it would constitute a virtue because unconditional love promotes good actions (Pence, 2007). By giving my brother my organ, he would know even more about my unconditional love for him and we would both strengthen even further our individual emotional foundations. Second, my intellect is satisfied by my organ donation to my brother because I know that, if the operation goes well, his health will improve and I wouldn’t suffer any major side-effects that require hospitalization. Because both my brother and I would be healthier and happier, I would not be anxious or depressed about his state. This would mean that I would not be a burden to the healthcare system because I would have no need to see a psychiatrist or a psychologist, for I would be happy. As both my brother and I are healthy and happy, each of us could further contribute to society by being productively employed. Our positive attitude due to the happiness we feel could be positively reflected further in our other relationships, thus contributing to the overall harmonious developments stemming from an organ donation to a loved one.

According to Virtue Ethicists, my action of organ donation would be morally right because I have displayed character virtues such as courage and sincerity of my motivation. Most importantly for Virtue Ethicists, my actions are in alignment with my system of values and my life experience, thus I have exercised my moral wisdom and reach a sought-after happiness state (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2003).

I continue my exploration of normative ethics by entering the hallways of Utilitarianism school. According to Utilitarianism, the action is morally right if its consequences produce the greatest amount of goodness or the smallest amount of negative consequences (Pence, 2007). Goodness can be measured in various ways and, depending on the reference parameters, goodness can be measured in emotional, psychological, monetary or any other means as “goodness”. Utilitarianism school has two divisions – rule utilitarianism and act utilitarianism (Pence, 2007). According to rule utilitarianism, what makes an act right is following general moral rules that produce the greatest good for the greatest number. On the other hand, act utilitarianism wishes to reserve the right to judge each unique case and then decide which action creates the greatest good. Although act utilitarianists agree that general rules commonly should be followed, they reserve the right to break them. Rules are broken if extraordinary circumstances arise, where a greater good for a greater number of people would be created by doing so (Pence, 2007).

In my hypothetical case of donating an organ to my beloved brother, act utilitarianism would approve of such an action because it would benefit me, my brother, the healthcare and the society, as previously stated.

But does general utilitarianism produce consistent moral actions that are in harmony with our personal value system, irrespective of external benefits to the society? To illustrate that utilitarianism does not encompass the entire spectrum of human decision-making requirements, consider the scenario where I have an opportunity to save three people by donating three of my organs (liver, kidney and a lung lobe), versus saving my brother by donating only one organ – my heart. If I choose to donate to these three people, I would, numerically speaking, increase the overall good consequences in the world by allowing three people to live at the cost of my emotional turmoil on my death bed, following the surgery, for not saving my brother. More people would be happy than not, if we take into account that families of three recipients outnumber my family. But, in my opinion and in the opinion of Virtue Ethicists, this action would not be morally justified as I would have betrayed my emotional virtues framework when I decided not to save my brother.

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When deciding whether the action is morally right, Virtue Ethics do not hide under a cloak of incomplete moral rules, such as Deontological evasion of an emotional component during such an act. By calling upon the complete enlightenment of one’s character (i.e. virtues) and in combination with moral wisdom attained through life and its conditions, Virtue Ethics holds every individual accountable for his/her actions (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2003). When people are held personally responsible for their actions as they relate to their character, they truly have an opportunity to grow as a human being and reach the ultimate potential for happiness and thus, perform the most morally righteous action on any particular topic.

The followers of the Virtue Ethics school embrace the intricacies of human experiences and aspire to understand a moral action within the cultural, emotional and intellectual conditions it has been performed in.

While it can be a tedious and somewhat challenging to expect from every human to seek to act in accordance with Virtue Ethics, if exercised, it does ensure consistency of moral acts within a society which Utilitarianism and Deontology lack. Some argue that codifiability of Virtue Ethics is impossible to achieve, but I argue that it is possible. The societal transformation that would need to occur would require enormous good will from the majority of human population, mandatory excellence in parenting, and most importantly, one’s utmost commitment to achieving happiness as defined by Virtue Ethics.

Both Utilitarianism and Deontology schools offer noble, but incomplete foundations for evaluating whether adult organ donation is a morally right act. While each theory protects the principles of either ratio or overall goodness, neither of them account for the myriad of emotional and empirical factors that are present in our decision-making, whether we like it or not. Virtue Ethics seeks to understand moral actions in a true rainbow of colors that they arise from, which is why it is the only normative ethical theory that is realistic enough to salute our human complexity.


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