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Why Organ Conscription Should Be off the Table: Extrapolation from Heidegger’s Being and Time

  • Susan B. LevinEmail author


The question, what measures to address the shortage of transplantable organs are ethically permissible? requires careful attention because, apart from its impact on medical practice, the stance we espouse here reflects our interpretations of human freedom and mortality. To raise the number of available organs, on utilitarian grounds, bioethicists and medical professionals increasingly support mandatory procurement. This view is at odds with the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2003, p. 2296), according to which ‘[o]rgan donation after death is a noble and meritorious act’ but ethically impermissible absent consent. Those who concur with this position, but would oppose conscription on independent philosophical grounds, have not yet found a voice in the Western tradition comparable in strength to the utilitarian basis of the policy’s support, for Kantian and Aristotelian ethics, too, lend themselves to a requirement that we make our organs available to others when they can no longer serve ourselves. One finds an ethical wedge against conscription in an unexpected philosophical locale: the ‘fundamental ontology’ of Heidegger’s Being and Time, where pertinent individual choices arc protectively over what happens post mortem. Heidegger’s perspective on this issue thus meshes, not with other philosophical voices, but with Catholic doctrine—a surprising convergence of atheistic and theistic approaches to our flourishing whose ground I address in the article’s conclusion.


Heidegger Being and Time Organ procurement Organ conscription Freedom Mortality 



I am grateful to Jay Garfield, Tom Koch, Marianna Mapes, Ellina Nektalova, and Katie Wing for feedback on earlier versions of the article.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The author declares that she has no conflict of interest.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophySmith CollegeNorthamptonUSA

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