Monday, March 25, 2013

A question of ethics

Some months back I came across an article that talked about the Chinese practice of harvesting organs from executed prisoners. I don’t have the link to that, but here’s another article which talks about the same thing.

About a million Chinese need organ transplants and there is a huge shortage. Part of this shortage is met by death row inmates, without their consent or that of their families.

This despicable practice militates, of course, against basic principles of human right. The very thought is abhorrent to a civilised mind.

But look at in another way.

The prisoners whose bodies were stripped of organs were hard-core criminals and convicted for such serious crimes as rape, murder, treason, etc. Whereas the recipients could be assumed to be good, law-abiding citizens. If the lives of the latter group could be saved by using the organs of the convicts who are condemned to death anyway, isn’t that a right thing to do?

Whether one feel it is right or wrong depends on which school of ethics one subscribes to. Julian Baggini explains in an article titled “Do the ends justify the means?”, (in his book, Ethics : The big questions) that there are two approaches to ethics : consequentialist and deontological. He explains that “consequentialism maintains that the rights and wrongs of actions are to be judged solely in terms of the consequences that follow from them. If there are two possible actions, you should choose the one that has the better outcome. Better could mean more happiness, less overall suffering, etc. Deontological duty, on the other hand, maintains that morality is about fulfilling duties and obligations irrespective of the consequences. The right and the bad are independent. “

So, if one is a consequentialist, one can argue that the harvesting of organs from dead convicts is ethical as there is a better outcome of lives of good people being saved in the process. If one is a deontologist, the argument would be that it is morally wrong to violate the human right principle of harvesting organs without consent. If the consequence of this stand is that other lives won’t be saved, so be it.

Which school do you belong to?

1 comment:

ramesh said...

i alternate between the schools as is convenient to me .. and what about you raj?