Geographic Location and Moral Arbitrariness in the Allocation of Donated Livers

Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics 47 (2):308-319 (2019)
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The federal system for allocating donated livers in the United States is often criticized for allowing geographic disparities in access to livers. Critics argue that such disparities are unfair on the grounds that where one lives is morally arbitrary and so should not influence one's access to donated livers. They argue instead that livers should be allocated in accordance with the equal opportunity principle, according to which US residents who are equally sick should have the same opportunity to receive a liver, regardless of where they live. In this paper, we examine a central premise of the argument for the equal opportunity principle, namely, that geographic location is a morally arbitrary basis for allocating livers. We raise some serious doubts regarding the truth of this premise, arguing that under certain conditions, factors closely associated with geographic location are relevant to the allocation of livers, and so that candidates' geographic location is sometimes a morally non-arbitrary basis for allocating livers. Geographic location is morally non-arbitrary, we suggest, since by taking it into account, the UNOS may better fulfill its central goals of facilitating the effective and efficient placement of organs for transplantation and increasing organ donation.

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Douglas MacKay
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

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