The Personalist Project

Accessed on September 26, 2023 - 5:12:13

The ethics of organ donation

Katie van Schaijik, Apr 18, 2013

A friend links an exceptionally thoughtful blog post on the question of organ donation.  She touches the problem of medical personel, acutely aware of the urgent need for organs, putting undue pressure on the grieving families, who may have religious or moral objections.

Clinicians and medical staff know so very little, if anything, about these families and about how they feel about their dead. They only know how they present at a given period of time and what the medical records say. Sometimes, in our haste, practitioners/clinicians see families as hurdles; persons to sidestep or go around.  We can subconsciously depersonalize them, characterizing them as obstacles to the lung, liver, kidney or whatever other body part we see in the clinical mind’s eye that would be beneficial to someone else. So when the answer is “no” we can become disrespectful, judgmental, insensitive and attribute to the dead person and to the family a lack of interest and indifference towards alleviating the suffering of others.

Some go so far as to want religious objections disregarded altogether. But this author delicately shows that this would not be good for medicine, which owes so much to religion, or for the well-being of the persons it serve. She does it with a gentle appeal to what Christian personalists call "the hermeneutics of the gift"—a key to sound ethics, and to overcoming the prevailing utilitarianism that reduces persons to "mere means."

Organ donation is a special gift.  Forcing or attempting to force a family that has declined the donation of a loved one’s organs by applying various amounts of pressure— subtle or otherwise— diminishes that gift. Or to put it as one scripture says, “what good is it to a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?” Our professionalism and ethics ought to ensure that the gift of organ donation is honored by treating all involved with dignity and respect.