Death, Dying, and Organ Donation: Reconstructing Medical Ethics at the End of Life

Oxford University Press (2011)
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Abstract

This book challenges fundamental doctrines of established medical ethics. It is argued that the routine practice of stopping life support technology causes the death of patients and that donors of vital organs (hearts, liver, lungs, and both kidneys) are not really dead at the time that their organs are removed for life-saving transplantation. Although these practices are ethically legitimate, they are not compatible with traditional medical ethics: they conflict with the norms that doctors must not intentionally cause the death of their patients and that vital organs can be obtained only from dead donors. The aim of this book is to undertake an ethical examination that aims to honestly face the reality of medical practices at the end of life. This involves exposing the misconception that stopping life support merely allows patients to die from their medical conditions, that there is an ethical bright line separating withdrawal of life support from active euthanasia, and that determination of death of hospitalized patients prior to vital organ donation is consistent with the established biological conception of death. A novel ethical justification is required for procuring vital organs from still-living donors. It is contended that in the context of plans to withdraw life support, donors of vital organs are not harmed or wronged by organ procurement prior to death, provided that valid consent is obtained for stopping treatment and organ donation. In view of serious practical difficulties in facing the truth regarding organ donation, an alternative pragmatic account is developed for justifying current practices that relies on the concept of transparent legal fictions. In sum, it is the thesis of this book that to preserve the legitimacy of end-of-life practices, we need to reconstruct medical ethics.

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Franklin Miller
Columbia University

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