In the Best Interests of the Deceased: A Possible Justification for Organ Removal Without Consent?
den Hartogh, Govert
Theoretical medicine and bioethics 2011 Aug; 32(4): 259-69
Opt-out systems of postmortem organ procurement are often supposed to be justifiable by presumed consent, but this justification turns out to depend on a mistaken mental state conception of consent. A promising alternative justification appeals to the analogical situation that occurs when an emergency decision has to be made about medical treatment for a patient who is unable to give or withhold his consent. In such cases, the decision should be made in the best interests of the patient. The analogous suggestion to be considered, then, is, if the potential donor has not registered either his willingness or his refusal to donate, the probabilities that he would or would not have preferred the removal of his organs need to be weighed. And in some actual cases the probability of the first alternative may be greater. This article considers whether the analogy to which this argument appeals is cogent, and concludes that there are important differences between the emergency and the organ removal cases, both as regards the nature of the interests involved and the nature of the right not to be treated without one's consent. Rather, if opt-out systems are to be justified, the needs of patients with organ failure and/or the possibility of tacit consent should be considered.
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