Individual and Family Decisions About Organ Donation


T. M. Wilkinson, School of Population Health/Department of Philosophy, University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland, New Zealand.


abstract This paper examines, from a philosophical point of view, the ethics of the role of the family and the deceased in decisions about organ retrieval. The paper asks: Who, out of the individual and the family, should have the ultimate power to donate or withhold organs? On the side of respecting the wishes of the deceased individual, the paper considers and rejects arguments by analogy with bequest and from posthumous bodily integrity. It develops an argument for posthumous autonomy based on the liberal idea of self-development and argues that this establishes a right of veto over donation. It claims, however, that whether the family's power to veto would conflict with posthumous autonomy rights depends on how it comes about. On the side of respecting the family's wishes, the paper first considers an argument from family distress. This supports a contingent, non-rights-based reason for the family's power that is trumped by the deceased's rights. It then outlines and criticises an argument based on family autonomy. The conclusion is that the individual has the right to veto the family's wish to donate and that, while the family has no right to veto the individual's wishes to donate, it can legitimately acquire this power and has done so in practice.