Act and omission : a utilitarian approach to cadavar organ donation

「為」與「不為」 : 身後器官捐贈政策的公利主義進路

Student thesis: Master's Thesis

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  • Yat Long CHAN


Awarding Institution
Award date15 Feb 2006


The rapid technological development in recent decades has opened a wide range of new possibilities and choices in medical practice, among which is cadaver organ donation. From the 1980s onwards, cadaver organ transplant has gradually developed into a feasible and comparatively cost-effective method in restoring the health of patients with various organ failures. This technological progress, however, has intensified long-lasting ethical controversies on what a morally preferable public policy should be regarding cadaver organ donation. There are two widely accepted forms of cadaver organ donation policy. One requires an individual’s advance, explicit consent in order to acquire his organs upon death (I call this the “act policy”), while the other requires merely an individual’s omission to register objection for the donation (I call this the “omission policy”). Almost all countries with developed cadaver organ transplant technologies confront the crucial moral question of which policy should be adopted. Is the act or the omission policy morally preferable? The consequence of this choice is critically significant to the welfare of the patients. This thesis compares the moral preferences of these two different policies from a utilitarian perspective. It develops a version of hedonistic utilitarianism to offer practical moral guidance on individual conduct and motive as well as governmental formulation of a public policy on cadaver organ donation. Based on this utilitarian framework, I assess (1) Individual consent and objection to cadaver organ donation under the two policies, (2) different individual motives for their consent and objection under the two policies, and (3) different formulations of act and omission policies. Lastly, I examine the claim that the omission policy may have infringed on certain moral rights (such as the right to cadaver organs and the right to a family member’s cadaver organs) and evaluate whether such infringements, if any, are morally justified. The thesis concludes that it is morally admirable for an individual to give consent to donation under either policy, though his motives for consent are not necessarily good, and, in view of the different effects of the two policies on individual motives and conduct, it is morally preferable for governments to carry out the omission policy rather than the act policy. In short, this thesis yields, at both individual and public policy levels, not only theoretically interesting but also practically significant findings on the issue of cadaver organ donation.

    Research areas

  • Moral and ethical aspects, Government policy, Donation of organs, tissues, etc