Letter: Organ transplants

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Sir: In his review of Anne Maclean's recent book (25 January) Tom Wilkie alleges that 'Some years ago Professor Harris famously argued for a controversial way of dealing with the shortage of transplant organs for donation. If two people required organ transplants then it was perfectly moral, Professor Harris argued, to select a suitable living 'donor' at random, kill this person and extract his or her organs . . .'

I wrote the article referred to over 20 years ago now and it was not a proposal for solving the shortage of donor organs, but rather a philosophical argument about the nature of utilitarian theory.

I do have radical solutions to offer to the shortage of donor organs: a caring society would treat cadaver organs as public property and make them readily available for transplantation without the need for an opting out system. In the case of live donors, I have argued for a limited 'monopsonistic' market in organs taken from live donors. The market would be confined to a limited area (such as the EU) where all vendors would also be beneficiaries of the system. Organs would be purchased on behalf of the EU by a single purchaser and distributed according to need, thus avoiding queue-jumping and the exploitation of poorer countries.

A second distortion of my views is contained in the review. Dr Wilkie alleges: 'Professor Harris has reasoned that the lives of new-born infants have no moral value, that their lives are at our disposal, and that infanticide is not immoral.' It is true that I defend abortion, infanticide and the use of foetal tissue under certain circumstances but not because the foetus or neonate has no moral value, rather because such value as they have is outweighed in some contexts by greater moral considerations.

Yours sincerely,


Professor of Applied Philosophy

University of Manchester