Doctor D operates an organ transplant shop. Four of his current patients require a heart, kidney, lung, and stomach, which cannot be obtained quickly enough to save their lives. However, another patient, whom Dr. D has just cured, lies sleeping. If the patient were, let’s say, to take a sudden turn for the worse, his organs would save four lives. It seems like a reasonable trade, no?
Dilemma 8 in 101 Ethical Dilemmas by Martin Cohen.
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This is another one of those extreme dilemmas that rarely, if ever, occur in the real world. Like the trolley car dilemmas, it requires us to balance one life against others, and it teases our intuitions about whether killing is ethically different from letting someone die. As I said in my response to Lifeboat ethics, ethical theory doesn’t seem to help much with these fanciful dilemmas, but it can resolve many questions that actually arise in real life. I suggest we start with these.
One very practical and urgent question is how donated organs should be allocated to patients. No physician contemplates killing a patient to retrieve organs (this is murder), but distributing organs that become available is a justice issue that hospitals face every day. Perhaps someone with experience in this area would like to post a dilemma that formulates the issue in a realistic way.