We argue that the dead donor rule, which states that multiple vital organs should only be taken from dead patients, is justified neither in principle nor in practice. We use a thought experiment and a guiding assumption in the literature about the justification of moral principles to undermine the theoretical justification for the rule. We then offer two real world analogues to this thought experiment, voluntary active euthanasia and capital punishment, and argue that the moral permissibility of terminating any patient through the removal of vital organs cannot turn on whether or not the practice violates the dead donor rule.
Next, we consider practical justifications for the dead donor rule. Specifically, we consider whether there are compelling reasons to promulgate the rule even though its corresponding moral principle is not theoretically justified. We argue that there are no such reasons. In fact, we argue that promulgating the rule may actually decrease public trust in organ procurement procedures and medical institutions generally – even in states that do not permit capital punishment or voluntary active euthanasia.
Finally, we examine our case against the dead donor rule in the light of common arguments for it. We find that these arguments are often misplaced – they do not support the dead donor rule. Instead, they support the quite different rule that patients should not be killed for their vital organs.