There is a space for a small pink sticker on everyone's driver's license which you choose to affix or to leave off of the identification. The sticker signifies that, should you be in a car accident and are declared to be brain-dead with no chance of recuperating, you agree to allow medical professionals to donate your organs to people who are in very dire need of them. When people think about the process of organ donation, they consider the process of removing an organ from one being and implanting it into another being. This is a very glib description of a very complicated issue. The moment that a person decides that they are willing to give up an organ, whether while they are alive or only after their death, they pledge that somewhere another individual will benefit from their body.
There are several ethical questions to address when discussing the subject of organ donation. First, there is the question of whether or not the process of distributing donated organs is conducted in an ethical manner, with the neediest people being at the top of the list for organs. However, often people with a lot of money find themselves much more speedily atop the list than people who do not have a lot of money to spend. Besides this, there are several debates about whether organ donation would be proper even in the most uncorrupt situations. Some groups have declared that it is unethical to donate organs because it is desecrating a healthy human body in order to provide the organ. Also, some religious groups believe that organ donation is defying the will of God; if He wanted the patient to be well then he would heal the ailment rather than having an organ transplant which is science and scientists interfering with His will. Putting those two arguments aside, organ donation is the ultimate gift, giving someone who is otherwise helpless a second chance at life. Thought it might be an immoral choice, depending on the religious or philosophical group one associates with, but it is the most ethical choice a single human can make.
There are two different and distinct types of organ donation; organs can be donated from either a living organism or through the process of cadaveric organ donation (organs harvested from a dead person). Whereas a living donor can usually provide only one organ and then most often the harvesting of the organ is performed for the implantation of another specific person, cadaveric donation can yield several organs, all of which can be given to different people (Ethics 20). The amount of organs which can be retrieved from the deceased depends upon the cause of death. People have been allowed to donate organs by affixing pink stickers to their driver's licenses or checking a box on their tax returns since 1968 with the passing of the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act or UAGA. "The ability of individuals to donate their organs via an opt-in approach to organ donation that honored the free 'autonomous' choice of individuals to donate their organs via a 'first-person consent' or 'donor designation' process" (Woman 114). In order to donate an organ from one body to another, the donor and recipient must have the same blood and tissue types.
One of the primary ethical concerns with reference to the subject of organ transplant is the epidemic of organ shortage in the world. According to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), there are far too few organs available for an ever-growing list of people waiting for the organs. Some of the statistics that UNOS have determined are quite sad. For example:
On average, 106 people are added to the nation's organ transplant waiting list each day -- one every 14 minutes. On average, 68 people receive transplants every day from either a living or deceased donor. On average, 17 patients die every day while awaiting an organ -- one person every 85 minutes. In 2002, 6,187 individuals died on the U.S. organ transplant waiting list because the organ they needed was not donated in time (Ethics 14).
One of the reasons for the decline in organ donation is that, in the past, many of the organs that were donated came as a result of fatal car accidents. In such circumstances, death is fairly quick and the organs are mostly intact.
However, with increased safety conditions in cars and more strict regulations concerning seatbelts and airbags, these types of fatal accidents are become less and less frequent. Currently, when a person dies from injuries or disease and they are still in possession of viable organs, it has become common practice to ask the next of kin whether or not the organs may be donated, even if the decease never made plans for donation before their demise (Kahn). This has caused some concern because the organs must be harvested soon after death when the loved ones are just beginning to grieve (Wolman 116). Like many components of the organ donation and transplantation debate, whether or not to donate an organ of a loved one while still grieving is questionable ethically. There is the fear that doctors, knowing a person is unlikely to survive, will not make the best efforts to preserve the person's life if they have a patient in need of an almost-ready organ. The primary fears of donation after cardiac death (DCD) include "(1) whether premortem administration of organ preservation agents is acceptable, since they do not benefit the donor, and may hasten death; and (2) how long the interval must be between the onset of circulatory arrest and the declaration of death" (Wolman 117). When a patient is declared brain-dead, they are left on life support systems in order to ensure that their organs remain fully functional for as long as possible. So, even though a person is effectively dead, they are technically, at least partially, alive. Some of the critics of the DCD standard point to the fact that in some cases a heart or brain could be reinvigorated even up to ten minutes after the organ stops functioning (Sanford). There have been several unfortunate cases reported where the supposedly deceased individual was not completely dead when the surgeons began organ harvesting. There have also been cases where the doctor sped up the death of a terminal individual to save other people.
Another concern about organ donation and transplantation is whether or not the process violates the basic and principle ethics of the medical profession itself. The Hippocratic Oath that doctors and nurses must take in order to become medical professionals forces them to pledge they will "First Do No Harm." Cutting into healthy bodies is mutilation and the opposite of this pledge (Brezina 10). So, is the cutting into a human body in order to retrieve an organ for an unhealthy one a similar violation of this credo? In order to find new medical treatments, there is often an experimental stage wherein first lower life forms and then more advanced beings are experimented with. The thesis being that the ends will justify the means. The experimentation will yield a greater good and the suffering of one will benefit the many. This is the same working theory behind organ transplants. Although one person will suffer if the organ is retrieved from a living body, the benefits to the person needing the organ will outweigh the unhappiness. A life here has more value than a single organ and it is the harvesting of a single organ that will save an entire life.
The theological concern about organ donation has to do with medicine and the decisions of humans are defying the will of God by removing a healthy organ and donating it to an unhealthy body. However, what these people argue is flawed because one of the responsibilities of a religious person is to treat every man and woman like a brother and sister and to behave with generosity at all times. Many who have organ transplants consider their gift as an act of God, a real-life miracle, for without the donation they would surely have died (Green vii). If God did not want people to receive organ transplants, why then would He make it so the process were even possible?
In the United States, organ recipients are supposed to be given transplants based on the order in which they were placed on the list and their age. There is a group which is bent on seeing the organ transplantation process made more equal. "To encourage equality in organ transplantation, the equal access theory encourages a distribution process for transplantable organs that is free of biases based on race, sex, income level, and geographic distance from the organ" (Ethics). This is how organ distribution and transplant would occur in an equal society. Unfortunately, in this society, it is quite common for a person with a lot of money or a degree of fame to receive a transplant long before many others…
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