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Taylor on presumed consent
  1. Timothy M Wilkinson
  1. Correspondence to Dr Timothy M Wilkinson, Department of Political Studies, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand; m.wilkinson{at}

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In his précis, James Stacey Taylor sets out his full-blooded Epicureanism, which concludes that “death is not a harm to the person who dies and that persons can neither be harmed nor wronged by events that occur after their deaths.”1 He then considers various topics in bioethics in the light of his Epicureanism, one of which I consider here: presumed consent in the procurement of organs for transplantation. Although I do not accept Taylor's Epicureanism and although his examination of presumed consent is flawed in various ways, I think we can learn something important from him.

Taylor couches the problem in terms of what we are supposed to presume about people's consent or dissent and he thinks that the USA and UK have a system of ‘presumed refusal’ “whereby it is presumed that a person would refuse to have her transplantable organs removed from her postmortem unless she had explicitly indicated otherwise” (ref. 2, p. 111—page references in text refer to this book). Taylor makes a common mistake. The USA and UK have never had such a presumption. In these countries, people who explicitly refuse may not have their organs taken, whereas people who do not explicitly consent may have their organs taken if, roughly speaking, their families consent. Thus non-consenters are not presumed to be refusers.

Leaving aside the mistake about the status quo, …

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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