Debate | StepTalks
Careless Thought Costs Lives: Why There are Not Enough Organs for Transplants
- Janet Radcliffe-Richards (Oxford University)
- 20 March 2018
- StepTalks: science at the Spanish Steps
2511 DP The Hague
- Spanish Steps
When there are innovations in technology, in medicine and elsewhere, we automatically start by trying to fit them into existing institutional and ethical frameworks. This is inevitable, but sometimes an innovation may be too radical for this to work. Conservative institutional frameworks and habits of mind may seriously impair the new potential for good, in ways that even contradict the ethical standards everyone professes to accept. Transplantation is a case in point.
It does enormous good, and everyone is anxious to increase donation rates so that more can be done. But historically speaking the ability to transfer functioning organs from one person to another is extremely new. If we try to fit it directly into the long-established social, medical and legal institutions that deal with medical care and death, the result may be that we significantly lessen potential donation rates, and even, without noticing it, go against moral principles we normally accept.
There are many ways in which we could almost certainly increase posthumous organ donation, in ways that would have public support, but which are blocked by current institutional arrangements and habits of mind rather than by serious principles. Much more radical thinking is needed, as well as a more thoroughgoing engagement with the public.
Janet Radcliffe-Richards is Professor of Practical Philosophy at the University of Oxford, and Fellow, Distinguished Research Fellow and Consultant at the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics. Previously she was Lecturer in Philosophy at the Open University, and then Director of the Centre for Bioethics at the medical school at University College London. Janet Radcliffe-Richards originally specialized in metaphysics and philosophy of science, but has now for many years concentrated on the practical applications of philosophy. Her latest book was picked up by transplant surgeons from all over the world and since then, she has been a frequent speaker at transplant conferences around the world.
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