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Altruism and Reward: Motivational Compatibility in Deceased Organ Donation

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Acts of helping others are often based on mixed motivations. Based on this claim, it has been argued that the use of a financial reward to incentivize organ donation is compatible with promoting altruism in organ donation. In its report Human Bodies: Donation for Medicine and Research, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics uses this argument to justify its suggestion to pilot a funeral payment scheme to incentivize people to register for deceased organ donation in the UK. In this article, I cast a sceptical eye on the above Nuffield report's argument that its proposed funeral payment scheme would prompt deceased organ donations that remain altruistic (as defined by and valued the report). Specifically, I illustrate how this scheme may prompt various forms of mixed motivations which would not satisfy the report's definition of altruism. Insofar as the scheme produces an expectation of the reward, it stands diametrical to promoting an ‘altruistic perspective’. My minimal goal in this article is to argue that altruism is not motivationally compatible with reward as an incentive for donation. My broader goal is to argue that if a financial reward is used to incentivize organ donation, then we should recognize that the donation system is no longer aiming to promote altruism. Rewarded donation would not be altruistic but it may be ethical given a persistent organ shortage situation.
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Keywords: Titmuss; altruism; motivation; organ donation; payment; reward; transplantation

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: March 1, 2015

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