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J Med Ethics 40:152-153 doi:10.1136/medethics-2012-100645
  • Commentary

Commentary by Janet Radcliffe-Richards on Simon Rippon's ‘Imposing options on people in poverty: the harm of a live donor organ market’

  1. Janet Radcliffe-Richards
  1. Correspondence to Professor Janet Radcliffe-Richards, Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, Littlegate House, St Ebbes, Oxford OX1 1PT; janet.radclifferichards{at}philosophy.ox.ac.uk
  • Received 7 September 2012
  • Accepted 11 September 2012
  • Published Online First 19 October 2012

This is an excellent article, probably the best there is in defence of prohibiting the sale of organs, and it deserves a much fuller discussion of detail than there is space for here.1 My concerns, however, are with generalities rather than detail. Although some such argument might justify prohibition of organ selling in particular places and at particular times, it is difficult to see how it could support the kind of general, universal policy currently accepted by most advocates of prohibition.

Whenever the subject of organ selling is discussed, it is useful to keep in mind the natural history of the debate. Prohibition was instituted by most governments and professional bodies just about as quickly as possible after it was discovered that payment for kidneys was going on, and was a direct response to feelings of moral outrage. It all happened without time for debate. It was only later, as challenges appeared, that justifications began to be produced; and when they did they followed a pattern long familiar to philosophers, and more recently recognised by moral psychologists, of determined efforts to find a justification for the initial intuition that organ selling must be wrong. New arguments kept appearing in the cause as earlier attempts were shown to fail, and many were so weak that they could not have seemed plausible unless their advocates had already been committed to their conclusion. This does not mean, of course, that a good justification could never be produced. It does, however, suggest a widespread feeling that organ selling must be intrinsically …

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