The debate over financial incentives and market models for organ procurement represents a key trend in recent bioethics. In this paper, we wish to reassess one of its central premises—the idea of organ shortage. While the problem is often presented as an objective statistical fact that can be taken for granted, we will take a closer look at the underlying framework expressed in the common rhetoric of “scarcity”, “shortage” or “unfulfilled demand”. On the basis of theoretical considerations as well as a socioempirical examination of public attitudes, we will argue that this rhetoric has an economic subtext that imbues the debate with normative premises that have far-reaching social and ethical consequences and need to be made explicit and discussed.
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Funding: The focus groups were part of the EU project “Challenges of Biomedicine—Sociocultural Contexts, European Governance and Bioethics” (Contract No SAS6-CT-2003-510238), funded by European Commission under the Sixth Framework Programme.
Competing interests: None.
Provenance and peer review: Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.
↵i The German focus groups were recruited, organised and conducted by the Research Group Bioethics and Science Communication at the Max-Delbrück-Center for Molecular Medicine Berlin-Buch; the Cypriot groups, by the Department of Clinical Genetics at the Archbishop Makarios III Medical Centre; the Dutch groups, by the Department of Philosophy at the University of Utrecht; the Swedish groups, by the Department of European Ethnology at the University of Lund. All the focus groups were recruited, organised and conducted in early 2005, following the guidelines for setting and content of the EU project “Challenges of Biomedicine”, Contract No SAS6-CT-2003-510238.
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