Thursday 5 April 2012

Overcome your Repugnance

John McCall is one of those anointed to decide whether things are ethical; the National Ethics Advisory Council, on which he sits, advises the Minister of Health on the ethical implications of things.

Here's what he told Critic, the University of Otago student newspaper, about organ transplants.

First, commenting on LifeSharers:
McCall strongly opposes the idea behind LifeSharers, describing it as “absolutely abhorrent. We don’t discriminate on what treatment is offered to people based on their beliefs or what they may or may not have been willing to do under different circumstances.”
But he'd be willing to discriminate against those donors who prefer that their organs go to organ donors. He finds organ markets even worse:
“I find the idea of organ markets abhorrent. Where commerce has had things to do with organ donation, terrible things happen. If you make it legal it’s still open to exploitation, and I think trading organs for money is fundamentally ethically untenable. The people who are most exploited by that tend to be the poor.”
Here are some of the terrible, abhorrent things that happen when we trade organs for money or allow that priority access to organs be given to those willing to be organ donors. The first link takes you to Cato's study of Iran's system in which donors are compensated; the second tells you about recent Israeli successes in prioritizing willing donors for access to organs.

Do read the whole Critic piece. And the extensive prior thread here.

I wouldn't much care if he found LifeSharers repugnant if it were just his personal opinion; I find it repugnant that some folks are willing to accept donor organs but refuse to be donors themselves, but that's a value judgment. But it puzzles me a bit what set of ethics gets used to decide that his ethics should trump mine. His abhorrence gets to set policy. Lovely.

Repugnance is an awful basis for policy.


  1. If organ markets or prioritising donors as recipients results in more organs available for those in need, and if no harms result, then I say bring it on. I agree that moral distaste is a poor basis for policy decisions.

  2. Wholeheartedly agree! If he finds the idea of an organ market repugnant, then he shouldn't participate in that market. Moralizing and imposing this on others denies others the chance to mutually improve their lot through participating in a market. If a market is open to exploitation that just means to me that you can design the market better, not ban it, hence we have labour law etc... I'd like to see an organ market with the Government as a single buyer, much like Pharmac.

  3. Honestly, this is one of those things that kills representative democracies... a "National Ethics Advisory Council." Who would waste their time on such a thing? American journalist H. L. Mencken described them this way: "A puritan: someone who lives in fear that somewhere, someone is actually enjoying their life." In this case, it seems Mr. McCall is desperately afraid that someone might actually save someone else's life.

    Egalitarianism is the enemy of progress. No exceptions.