Against the family veto in organ procurement: Why the wishes of the dead should prevail when the living and the deceased disagree on organ donation

Bioethics 34 (3):272-280 (2019)
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The wishes of registered organ donors are regularly set aside when family members object to donation. This genuine overruling of the wishes of the deceased raises difficult ethical questions. A successful argument for providing the family with a veto must (a) provide reason to disregard the wishes of the dead, and (b) establish why the family should be allowed to decide. One branch of justification seeks to reconcile the family veto with important ideas about respecting property rights, preserving autonomy, and preventing harm. These arguments are ultimately unsuccessful. Another branch of arguments is consequentialist, pointing out the negative consequences of removing the veto. Whether construed as concerning family distress or as a potential drop in the organs available, these arguments are unsuccessful; the first fails to recognize the tremendous distress associated with waiting for an organ, while the second has little supporting evidence. A final section considers and rejects whether combining some of the arguments just examined could justify the family veto. We should thus remove the family veto in organ donation.

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Andreas Albertsen
Aarhus University


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