Altruism: The Morality of Suffering and Death (Exhibit 347R: Organ Donation) - [TEST] The Objective Standard

The widespread acceptance of altruism (the fallacious notion that being moral consists in self-sacrificially serving others) causes continuous human suffering and death. Yet another example of this fact is illustrated in a recent article by Dr. Sally Satel (a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute). Because of the widespread acceptance of altruism in America, "it is against the law to receive money or anything of value in exchange for an organ, a principle set down in 1984 by the National Organ Transplantation Act."

Violators face fines of up to $50,000 and felony prison terms of up to five years. "Organ transplantation is built upon altruism and public trust. If anything shakes that trust, then everyone loses," says the [United Network for Organ Sharing] web site. But so many have lost already: eighteen people die each day while waiting for an organ and, without changes, the situation is virtually guaranteed to worsen.

Not only do eighteen people die each day while waiting for an organ; many people also suffer as they wait. Why are so many people suffering and dying while waiting for organs? Because the acceptance of altruism has convinced Americans that it is better for some people to suffer and die than it would be for others to donate organs for a profit. Profit is plainly selfish; thus, according to altruism, it would sully the whole "beautiful" altruistic "ideal" of people giving away organs for free.

Moreover, on the premise of altruism, it is wrong for those who possess more wealth or more virtue to benefit from that fact; thus, the authorities must see to it that the distribution of organs has nothing to do with who can afford to purchase an organ or whether the recipient is an innocent child, or a heroic soldier, or a convicted murderer.

To maintain the equal distribution of scarce organs, the argument goes, the community (e.g., UNOS) must exercise total control. According to Mark Fox, head of the UNOS ethics committee: "The prisoner in California gets the heart transplant because he needs it and is first on the list. It's blind to whether you're a saint or a sinner or a celebrity. That's key to maintaining the public trust."

God forbid we lose that "public trust."

What about the obvious fact that a free market for organs would create a much greater supply of organs than could ever exist when profiting from organ donation is prohibited? In other words, what about Economics 101? The answer is that given the fundamental role of morality in human thinking, even the most clearly relevant facts become irrelevant in the minds of those who accept the morality of altruism.

"Almost everyone agrees that an incentive program would encourage more donation than would a purely altruistic approach," says Adam Kolber of the University of San Diego Law School. "It is as if the institution of organ donation is being used as a means to further another goal, not specifically related to organ donation."

Yes, the institution of organ donation is being used as a means to further another goal—the altruistic goal of seeing to it that people suffer and die.

The problem is that the system itself may be the cause of the shortage it is charged with regulating. As nephrologist Benjamin Hippen has observed, the human cost of this is a system "degenerat[ing] into an equal opportunity to die on the waiting list."...

Yes, on one level, the system is the cause of the shortage it is charged with regulating—but the system is only the proximate cause, not the fundamental cause. The fundamental cause is the widespread acceptance of the morality of altruism—which is perpetuated by everyone who refuses to challenge the dogma that being moral consists in being selfless. The solution to such atrocities is for people to repudiate altruism and embrace egoism.


From Justin Vogt, June 14, 2006

I am confused how offering someone incentive for their heart as opposed to just asking them to donate it would increase the number of hearts available on the market. The donor wouldn't exactly get a chance to enjoy that incentive, you know?

With other organs (i.e., kidneys, blood vessels, pieces of liver, skin), though, an incentive would result in more people donating, just as offering money for sperm and eggs results in large amounts of both being donated (although, in the case of sperm it's not exactly an invasive procedure).

So, I can see where allowing people to freely trade in organs could result in more of certain, but not all, organs.

From Craig Biddle, June 14, 2006

Dear Justin,

Thank you for your note.

Many people who have not chosen to donate their organs (including their heart) when they die would choose to do so if it meant that their families or loved ones would receive payment for the donation. So the argument does apply to all organs. For more on this subject, see this excellent op-ed by David Holcberg of the Ayn Rand Institute.

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