2020, Rhetoric + Argumentation

Organ Allocation: A Loaded Process


Given that the demand for organs far exceeds the supply available for donation, a system of organ allocation is necessary to determine how to distribute the scarce resource. In designing such a system, it is essential that certain principles central to the field of bioethics, such as utility and justice, are considered. In this paper, I imagine one potential system for organ allocation. In this system, the probability of success, medical need/urgency, waiting time, pediatric status, and exhaustion of alternative treatments are the five criteria used to determine how people should be ranked on organ waiting lists. While each of these criterion seems like an objective measure, I argue that the process of ranking an organ waiting list is a process that is far from objective. Choosing how to order and apply these objective criteria involves making explicit and implicit claims about what it means to live, and how life derives its value. I illustrate this point using sample iterations of a few possible systems. This piece highlights the prevalence of bioethical considerations in seemingly objective medical decisions.


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