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Autonomy, Constraining Options, and Organ Sales

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Although there continues to be a chronic shortage of transplant organs the suggestion that we should try to alleviate it through allowing a current market in them continues to be morally condemned, usually on the grounds that such a market would undermine the autonomy of those who would participate in it as vendors. Against this objection Gerald Dworkin has argued that such markets would enhance the autonomy of the vendors through providing them with more options, thus enabling them to exercise a greater degree of control over their bodies. Paul Hughes and T. L. Zutlevics have recently criticized Dworkin's argument, arguing that the option to sell an organ is unusual in that it is an autonomy–undermining “constraining option” whose presence in a person's choice set is likely to undermine her autonomy rather than enhance it. I argue that although Hughes’ and Zutlevics’ arguments are both innovative and persuasive they are seriously flawed — and that allowing a market in human organs is more likely to enhance vendor autonomy than diminish it. Thus, given that autonomy is the preeminent value in contemporary medical ethics this provides a strong prima facie case for recognizing the moral legitimacy of such markets.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/1468-5930.00221

Affiliations: Louisiana State University, USA

Publication date: December 1, 2002

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