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Organ Donation and Transplantation

Organ Donation and Transplantation

The topic Of organ transplantation raises issues which have been morally significant throughout the history of philosophy, such as the value of human life, the nature of personhood, and the nature of fairness.

Organ transplantation is the medical technology of removing a bodily organ from the body of one person (the donor) and inserting it into the body of another person (the recipient). This process is generally done for the sake of helping or saving the life of the recipient.

Moral Implications I

To get a clear idea of this technology and its moral implications, consider a kidney transplant.

The kidney of a live donor or a cadaver is removed and inserted into a recipient, Given the biological importance of the kidney. the number of people year in need of a kidney transplant, and the number of annual donors, a difficult moral question arises: How should we decide which persons in need of a new kidney will receive one?


Moral Implications Il

This question can be answered in at least two ways.

First, one can say that the question should be answered in terms of the value of the human lives
in need of the new kidney. But this raises a difficult moral and axiological question: What is
the ontological value of human life?

We might assume that human beings are rational, embodied creatures. Life is self-directing, end-
oriented activity. Thus, human life is the kind of self-directing, end-oriented activity that essentially involves reasoning, choosing, believing, desiring, and feeling.

Now, what is the value of this kind of life? Does each human being have an equal, innate,
absolute value? If so, then human beings are of value because of what they are, and not because
of what they do, how they feel, or what they believe. If it is true that human value is grounded
in ‘. what we are, then the decision about the new kidney should be made in an impersonal manner — such as by lottery.

But perhaps one is inclined to say that the value of human life is relative to factors such as
intelligence, social contribution, occupation, or quality of life.

If this is the case, one might argue that a person with a higher IQ might be more valuable than a
person with a lower IQ, A utilitarian might be inclined to argue that a person who contributes
more to society is more valuable than one who contributes less.

If this way of thinking is accurate, then the decision about the new kidney might be made by
considering factors such as social contribution, age, health or intellectual capacity.

As a second way of answering the question of organ distribution, one might say that the
question should be answered in terms of the free choices that persons have made.

Suppose two people need a new kidney and there is only one available to give. The first
person has lived a responsible life. The second person has chosen to abuse drugs over a period
of many years, which led to kidney disease. One might say that the first person should get the
the second person shouldn’t get the kidney because he has made irresponsible choices. This
approach to answering the question presupposes human free will. Do human beings have free will?

Libertarians say yes, human beings have the rational power to make choices. These choices
are not determined by any external factors. They see human beings as completely undetermined
choosers. As such, human beings are moral agents who are morally responsible for their

Determinists hold that human beings are at the mercy of their genes, environment, and other
factors. Therefore, human beings are not morally responsible for their decisions. If this view is true, then we cannot solve the problem of the kidney in terms of the free choices that the potential recipients have made.

Compatibilists hold that free will is compatible with determinism and that both are in fact true.
They say that everything human beings do is determined by prior causal factors, yet human
beings have free will. A compatibilist might argue that human beings are free to choose only according to their desires and beliefs, which are determined by biological, chemical, and
sociocultural factors.  

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