Imposing options on people in poverty: The harm of a live donor organ market

Journal of Medical Ethics 40 (3):145-150 (2014)
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Abstract

A prominent defence of a market in organs from living donors says that if we truly care about people in poverty, we should allow them to sell their organs. The argument is that if poor vendors would have voluntarily decided to sell their organs in a free market, then prohibiting them from selling makes them even worse off, at least from their own perspective, and that it would be unconscionably paternalistic to substitute our judgements for individuals' own judgements about what would be best for them. The author shows that this ‘Laissez-Choisir Argument’ for organ selling rests on a mistake. This is because the claim that it would be better for people in poverty to sell their organs if given the option is consistent with the claim that it would be even better for them to not have the option at all. The upshot is that objections to an organ market need not be at all paternalistic, since we need not accept that the absence of a market makes those in poverty any worse off, even from their own point of view. The author goes on to argue that there are strong theoretical and empirical reasons for believing that people in poverty would in fact be harmed by the introduction of a market for live donor organs and that the harm constitutes sufficient grounds for prohibiting a market.

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Simon Rippon
Central European University