Journal of Applied Philosophy 24 (2):151–168 (2007)
The question of when it is permissible to inflict risks on others without their consent is one that we all face in our everyday lives, but which is often brought to our attention in contexts of technological innovation and scientific uncertainty. Xenotransplantation, the transplantation of organs or tissues from animals to humans, has the potential to save or improve the lives of many patients but gives rise to the possibility of infectious agents being transferred from donor animals into the human population. As well as being an important ethical issue in its own right it therefore provides a useful vehicle for exploring the more general question of how to balance the benefits of a practice against the risks to third parties. This paper focuses on the Rawlsian, justice-based analysis of the risks of xenotransplantation proposed by Robert Veatch. It argues that Veatch is right to take considerations of distributive justice into account, but that his particular approach is flawed. It is hoped that consideration of Veatch’s arguments, and of the underlying assumptions will suggest better ways of executing a justice-based approach.
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