Organ and Tissue Retrieval and Donation The Ethical Imperative

  • Albert R. Jonsen


An organ, as defined in Taber’s Medical Dictionary, is “a part of the body having special function.” The entry goes on to note that, since most organs are in pairs, “one may be extirpated and the remaining one will perform all necessary functions.” In the accompanying alphabetical list of 32 organs, however, at least 13 are not paired and, of these, the extirpation of several, such as heart and liver, is fatal (barring their immediate replacement). Nevertheless, the dictionary’s remark is well taken, since the human body has a remarkable ability to compensate for the loss of its parts or to generate tissue. For centuries, this was important because parts were lost by accident or by deliberate extirpation in a surgical procedure. One ethical question was consistently asked about deliberate extirpation: Is it morally licit to multilate one’s body? The answer, from most moralists during those centuries, was “yes, if the loss of the bodily part is necessary for the health of the whole body.” Clearly, the physical and physiological capacity to compensate for loss of an organ, and even more, of tissue made that answer an easy one.


Aplastic Anemia Moral Obligation Ethical Question Ethical Imperative Organ Retrieval 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Caplan, A., 1983, Organ transplants: The costs of success, Hastings Ctr. Rep. 13 (6): 23–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Caplan, A., 1984, Ethical and policy issues in the procurement of cadaver organs for transplantation, N. Engl. J. Med. 311: 981–984.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Dhew Task Force on Organ Transplantation, 1986, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D. C.Google Scholar
  4. Feinberg, J., 1984, Harm To Others. The Moral Limits of the Criminal Law, Oxford University Press, New York.Google Scholar
  5. Gaylin, W., 1974, Harvesting the dead, Harpers 249: 23–30.Google Scholar
  6. Harrison, M., and Meilaender, G., 1986, The anencephalic newborn as organ donor, Hastings Ctr. Rep. 16:(12)21–23.Google Scholar
  7. Kelly, G., 1956, The morality of mutilation: Toward a revision of the treatise, Theol. Stud. 17: 332–344.Google Scholar
  8. Kennedy, I., 1979, The donation and transportation of kidneys: Should the law be changed?, J. Med. Ethics 5: 13–21.Google Scholar
  9. Lombardo, P., 1981, Consent and donations from the dead, Hastings Ctr. Rep. 11 (6): 9–11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Massachusetts Task Force on Organ Transplantation, 1985, Law Med. Health Care 13 (1): 8–27.Google Scholar
  11. Muyskens, J. J., 1978, An alternative policy for obtaining cadaver organs, Phil. Public Affairs 8: 88–99.Google Scholar
  12. Perry, C., 1980, Human organs and the open market, Ethics 91: 63–71.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. The Pittsburgh Press, 1985. The challenge of a miracle: Selling the gift. Nov 3–8.Google Scholar
  14. President’s Commission for the Study of Ethical Problems in Medicine and Biomedical and Behavioral Research, 1982, Securing Access to Health Care. U. S Government Printing Office, Washington, D. C. Ramsey, P., 1970, Patient as Person. Yale University Press, New Haven.Google Scholar
  15. Raymond, A., 1978, France, the automatic transplant. Washington Post August 16, 1978.Google Scholar
  16. Rolston, H., 1982, The irreversibly comatose: Respect for the subhuman in human life. J. Med. Philos. 7: 337–354.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Rosner, F., 1986, Modern Medicine and Jewish Ethics, Chapter 19, Yeshiva University Press, New York.Google Scholar
  18. Sadler, A. M., and Sadler, B., 1984, Organ donation: Is voluntarism still valid?, Hastings Ctr. Rep. 14 (5): 6–9.Google Scholar
  19. Schwartz, H. S., 1985, Bioethical and legal considerations in increasing the supply of transplantable organs: from UAGA to “Baby Fae,” Am. J. Law Med. 10: 397–438.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Science 1978, 210:596.Google Scholar
  21. Titmus, R. M., 1971, The Blood Relationship, Vintage, New York.Google Scholar
  22. Veatch, R. M., 1976, Death, Dying and the Biological Revolution, Yale University Press, New Haven.Google Scholar
  23. Walzer, M., 1983, Spheres of Justice, Basic Books, New York.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Albert R. Jonsen
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Medical History and EthicsUniversity of Washington School of MedicalSeattleUSA

Personalised recommendations