Man Wants to Donate Vital Organs Before He's Dead

|

Dirty pretty things.

Should a person who is dying of an incurable illness be allowed to donate his organs before the disease kills him? Gary Phebus who is suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease) wants to do just that: donate his heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, the whole shebang now. ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord leading in most cases to complete loss of control of voluntary movement and which eventually kills the patient.

After his diagnosis, the Cherokee Tribune reports:

Phebus started researching online to learn about organ donation. He learned about the long wait people endure for an organ transplant and came up with his idea.

He decided to donate his organs, but he wants to do it now, which would kill him.

"I have a death sentence. It is just a matter of time," he said. "I know people are waiting on organs. If I am going to die, why not—while my organs are still viable—go ahead and save five to 10 people."

Phebus talked it over with his wife, Patti, and his four children. He said they all are supportive of the idea.

"I feel it is the right thing to do. There is a lack of organs. I don't feel like it is suicide," he said. "I am trying to give other people a chance."

ALS does not apparently affect the health of internal organs. On the one hand, it is certainly wrong to take a vital organ, even if given voluntarily, from a healthy person. On the other hand, Phebus is not healthy. In any case, harvesting organs from Phebus would violate the medical ethical principle: "First, do no harm." Phebus' generous impulse moves me, but I fear that honoring it would create dangerous precedents.

NEXT: Reason.tv: Richard Florida Discusses The Great Reset of Urban Development in Economic Downturns

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. I can help you with this!

    1. Adorable.

  2. I took a Bioethics and the Law class last semester discussing stuff like this. Very interesting and not so easy to come to a conclusion on what the law should be. With strong controls to ensure consent I don’t see why he can’t do this. Being able to choose when to end your life is the last freedom you have.

    1. Actually, the answer is quite simple. If we believe that people should have a right to live the lives they wish to live and agree that people have a right to die in a number of states (and a right to pain killing treatment that will be fatal under the due process clause), then the answer is this – let the guy do it.

      Healthy people play this charade and pretend that by controlling the lives of people who are suffering agonizing, degenerative diseases, they will somehow preserve the person’s sacred life. In reality, they are doing nothing but condemning the person to a life sentence in a hellish state of half life while making sure the family loses whatever lives and assets they once had. If people believe that others have a right to die, I don’t get how they could object to the methods used.

      1. I have no problem with people ending their lives whether they are sick or not. The hard part is determining consent.

        1. The hard part is determining consent.

          I would imagine there is a gray area but is it really that hard to ascertain consent in the majority of cases? Just ask them.

          1. It is the harder cases that cause problems. This guy is clearly giving consent. What about someone with dementia or Alzheimer? What about someone in a coma who put in their will that their organs could be donated before they actually died but the language was a little ambiguous (and the wife/parents disagree over it).

            These situations already happen all the time and lead to court battles. I said in the OP that it should be ok for this guy to do what he wants to do but to pretend that the application of the law won’t be difficult is ignoring reality.

            If if were legal I would prefer that the process be harsh enough that no one’s life is taken without their consent.

            1. What about someone in a coma who put in their will that their organs could be donated before they actually died but the language was a little ambiguous (and the wife/parents disagree over it).

              These issues already come up with living wills, I would hope the infrastructure exists to address them on a case-by-case basis? I am not pretending to have the solutions for the tough cases but I don’t see the benefit of throwing out the liver with the bath water.

            2. Do what many states do – require a clear and convincing demonstration of consent. Do we need to address instances of Alzheimers or dementia here? Nope, because nothing in this case suggests that the man is suffering from either. We can attack the difficult legal questions bit by bit (as in, exactly how we address everything else).

              I don’t really get how this is any different than situations where a living will is followed even though it will result in the death of the patient. Are there instances where a living will might result in the deprivation of someone’s life against their actual intent? Sure. That being said, we’ve determined that it makes more sense for us to allow people to make the decision and risk a bad result, than to step in, eliminate the decision, and ensure one.

            3. Do what many states do – require a clear and convincing demonstration of consent. Do we need to address instances of Alzheimers or dementia here? Nope, because nothing in this case suggests that the man is suffering from either. We can attack the difficult legal questions bit by bit (as in, exactly how we address everything else).

              I don’t really get how this is any different than situations where a living will is followed even though it will result in the death of the patient. Are there instances where a living will might result in the deprivation of someone’s life against their actual intent? Sure. That being said, we’ve determined that it makes more sense for us to allow people to make the decision and risk a bad result, than to step in, eliminate the decision, and ensure one.

            4. Do what many states do – require a clear and convincing demonstration of consent. Do we need to address instances of Alzheimers or dementia here? Nope, because nothing in this case suggests that the man is suffering from either. We can attack the difficult legal questions bit by bit (as in, exactly how we address everything else).

              I don’t really get how this is any different than situations where a living will is followed even though it will result in the death of the patient. Are there instances where a living will might result in the deprivation of someone’s life against their actual intent? Sure. That being said, we’ve determined that it makes more sense for us to allow people to make the decision and risk a bad result, than to step in, eliminate the decision, and ensure one.

  3. Should a person who is dying of an incurable illness be allowed to donate his organs before the disease kills him?

    I’m going with”no”.I certainly think he should be able to end his own life in a manner that leaves his donatable organs in a viable condition for transplant though.

    1. Like having his organs removed?

  4. Damn, I actually agree with Ron Bailey on something.

  5. It does lead to dangerous precedents–like the idea that you own your body and your life.

    Can’t have that now, can we?

    1. “but I fear that honoring it would create dangerous precedents.”

      I agree with Azathoth. This would not create a situation we find in the tail end of Monte Python’s “The meaning of life”. This would merely afirm what libertarians suposedly believe already. That people own their body. Do we? I do. Do you Mr. Bailey

      1. What constitutes consent? How do we prevent doctors/families/the state/etc. from making “choices” for the patient? Once you allow killing, you are walking in a very dangerous area. This is not to say that doctors don’t allow people to die all the time, they do. But allowing/encouraging them to kill is morally dubious.

        1. Morally dubious? You mean you’re imposing your moral compass on others? How libertarian of you.

          How do we know the family isn’t coercing the patient to end his life? We take his word on it and interview him in private. Denying people a host of services just because there is a potential for abuse is only opening the door to absolute control of the individual by the majority.

          1. Of course I am imposing my moral compass on others. I object to murder, theft, and rape as well.

            In this case I have no problem with Phebus taking his own life and harvesting his own organs, I merely object to others killing him.

            1. I object to murder, theft, and rape as well.

              You’ll find that the victims object to those things to. But we are explicitly talking about a case in which there is no victim.

            2. Murder, theft, and rape – all crimes involving others. One one, aside from this man, his family, and the people he will save, has an interest in the case.

              “In this case I have no problem with Phebus taking his own life and harvesting his own organs, I merely object to others killing him.”

              A distinction without a difference. The problem here is that it’s difficult to ensure that someone will die in a way that will leave all of their organs harvestable. This man’s intent is to save the maximum amount of life while avoiding the maximum amount of pain. Your plan denies him that objective.

        2. You seem to think consent is much harder to determine when it comes to dying than in any other consensual activity. Why is that?

        3. What constitutes consent? How do we prevent doctors/families/the state/etc. from making “choices” for the patient?

          I would say it is pretty clear that this guy has given his consent. Family, doctors and state are not involved here. What issue are you arguing?

      2. Difference is Bailey is not a libertarian. He’s a liberal fool who’s on the science beat for a libertarian-leaning magazine.

    2. Azathoth & others: Of course he has the right to kill himself. But I am concerned about the pressures that an already paternalistic medical system might bring to bear on other similarly situated people. I am open to being persuaded that I am wrong on this.

      1. I am concerned about the pressures that an already paternalistic medical system might bring to bear on other similarly situated people.

        Protect us from the pressures! We have a right not to be pressured! How can we possibly be free as long as we are pressured?! Freedom is slavery!

      2. Of course he has the right to kill himself. But I am concerned about the pressures that an already paternalistic medical system might bring to bear on other similarly situated people.

        But one has nothing to do with the other. If we own our bodies to the point of being allowed to kill ourselves we certainly own them to the point of deciding what to do with the spare parts when we die, regardless of whether the death was natural or not. Institutional pressure is a fact of life and by and large the state respects the right of emancipated adults to make choices of their own free will. If a patient, or a patient’s duly appointed advocate wants to make this choice I see no role for the state whatsoever.

      3. RB, so what if the medical system tries to persuade other terminally ill people to end their lives so that their organs can be harvested? We are all subjected to all sorts of persuasion all the time. Your clergyman wants you to donate money to feed starving children, the shamwow guys reminds us that “the Germans make good stuff”, etc.

      4. 1st. The argument of precedent here is just taking away a clear right for this man under this circumstance. Every slope is slippery.

        In the second respect, You are dangerously close to the argument that people are not able to make a ‘true’ decision because of pressure. With this logic, we are all not free, because the discount card at the supermarket that tracks what we eat – we are unable to say no because we won’t get the discount! My God, pay full price for fish sticks – O, the humanity!!!
        Do you really think in the age of ’60 minutes’ viral video, etcetera that people will not have a voice when some doctor says, ‘we want to pressure you to donate your organs, even though we know you don’t want to?’
        The vast majority of people are not going to want to check out early. Its not a problem.

  6. On the one hand, it is certainly wrong to take a vital organ, even if given voluntarily, from a healthy person.

    How so?

    I guaran-damn-tee you if one of my organs would save my daughter’s life, it would be hers as quickly as I could do whatever I needed to do to make it happen.

    1. wouldn’t it be cheaper and easier to make another daughter?

      1. It would be more fun, but it would be neither cheaper nor easier.

    2. Even if it killed you? I think that I will never understand anyone sacrificing their lives for their children. Your life is yours and is, in all likelihood, more valuable than your child’s.

      1. Yes, even if it killed me. Further, in the context of this article, my point was that I would commit suicide so that she could have the organ she needed to stay alive, if it came to that. Just like I would jump in front of a car to push her out of the way or get between her and a threatening animal or whatever else that put my life at risk to make hers less at risk. Suicide has a more certain outcome for me than those examples, but the concept is the same.

        My life is mine and I would freely choose to give it to save hers. If you will never understand that, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you don’t have children.

        I don’t know how you propose to measure the value of a life. From a philosophical standpoint, if my daughter died while I had the chance to prevent it and didn’t, I would consider my life worthless. From a reproductive point of view, the chances I will have more kids is 0 while hers is non-zero. From a financial point of view, I’m almost certainly past the halfway point in my life and the NPV of her future earnings stream is almost certainly higher than mine.

        I don’t expect you to understand or agree and whether I’m driven by an instinct to make sure my genes survive or by the love of my girl, the outcome would be the same. I’d be surprised if my position is unusual among parents.

  7. Phebus’ generous impulse moves me, but I fear that honoring it would create dangerous precedents.

    Which dangerous precedents would that be? Terminally ill people whose prospects include having others feeding them, wiping their his ass for them and losing mobility and the ability to communicate, might suddenly engage in physician assisted suicide while simultaneously saving/improving the lives of other people?

    I don’t even see harvesting his organs violates Hippocrates first maxim.

    Full disclosure – I’m one of those radicals who think that a person has full ownership of his/her own body.

  8. He want to kill himself for the greater good.

    That makes me queasy.

    For some reason, I find it much easier to contemplate that in the context of a pressing emergency—decisions made in a split second—then in this carefully considered context.

    That shouldn’t be the case, but it is.

    I’m not staking a positions yet, but I’ll bet that the bulk of self-identified “ethicists” come down in the wrong place one way or another.

    1. >>> He wants to kill himself for the greater good. That makes me queasy.

      You seem to object to his act as some kind of collectivist self denial and self immolation.

      The opposite of that kind of self denial is not spending your life as a solipsistic black hole consuming the universe.

      The opposite is pursuing *your* values as best you can with the tick tocks you have left in your clock.

      Everyday, every moment, we choose how to *spend* our lives.

      I see a guy selfishly and egoistically trying to spend his life as best he can, honestly facing the facts, bringing the most of what *he* values into the world, and having the courage to pursue those values in spite of the fear he must feel as he faces death. And I see a family equally willing to face the facts, honoring both his wishes and his autonomy.

      Hearing the story, I didn’t feel queasy, I felt *respect*.

      1. +1

      2. Better at invective and projection than reading comprehension, I see.

        When I object, I say as much, so I’ll thank you to stop trying to tell me what I think.

  9. I pray that man dies violently in a casino orgy*!

    *scientifically proven to be the best way to die.

    1. *scientifically proven to be the best way to die.

      I dunno, pretty sure it’s a close race for 1st with the Buffet Orgy and the Indy 500 Orgy.

      1. Gentlemen, Gentlemen – the important point is that it is an orgy. (is me being the only guy with 30 women an orgy – cause that is what I’m thinking is an orgy. Not that there is anything wrong with having guys are your orgy – just not my thing)

  10. This should be required of all politicians that have served more than two terms.

    1. 2, 4, or 6 year terms?

  11. Cut your femoral artery and you will get your wish.

    1. I was thinking “Call 911, then put a .45 slug through your head once you know they’re on the way – they should get there in time for the organs to be used – no moral quandary for anyone!”

      1. It’s messy as hell. There are cleaner ways to do this.

        1. True, but think of the jobs it will create or save at Molly Maid/Servicemaster/etc?

          If life gives you lemons…

      2. Not even a little bit true. Most GSW to the head die rapidly heart/lungs stop. Many EMS services cannot intubate in the field. What usually happens in a case like this is EMS comes in doing CPR. The patient is declared DOA and that’s it. What has to happen for this to work is enough damage to cause swelling => brain death, but not right away (1-2 hours works well). This is hard to calibrate.

  12. “May we have your liver?”

    “I’m using it.”

    1. Look, is that your signature there on the donor card? Right, then I’ll have your liver…

  13. “He want to kill himself for the greater good.”

    As should be his right, just as NOT killing himself for the greater good should be.

    I have no issues with this.

    The liberals will decry that if we let this happen, then poor people will sell their organs for drug money. The thing is, we’re talking VITAL organs here, which you die fairly immediately without. So much for shooting up.

    1. As opposed to the “conservatives” who will go on a “Save Terri Schiavo” like rampage to mollify the right to life segment of their base.

      1. I have to agree with J sub D here. This is not a “liberal” vs. “conservative” issue.

        This is 100% about authoritarianism, and you can find plenty of that on both sides of the aisle.

        And my stomach still turns over contemplating what Mr. Phebus is proposing.

        1. I agree with both J sub and BigMuddy.

          I had just come from HuffPost before posting that, so I was a little biased against liberal whining.

          I apologize for not including conservatives in the douchery.

      2. Right to Life in the conservative circles only applies until you reach criminal status…then Death Penalty is OK. I have never once had a righty explain how that jsutify that belief.

        Its my body and I can die if I want to

        1. I would guess that their argument would focus on the idea that they believe a capital murderer has committed acts by which he forfeited his right to life, much as other criminals forfeit their right to freedom, while an unborn child hasn’t done so.

          1. then they should change their chant to “conditional right to life”. Just sayin. This article, however, is clearly a self ownership argument that I fear the right may oppose due to weak logic. The left would oppose it if he charged for his organs. All around the statist agreejust with different motives.

  14. I fear that honoring it would create dangerous precedents

    Can you elaborate on this, Ron? I’m not seeing any.

  15. In any case, harvesting organs from Phebus would violate the medical ethical principle: “First, do no harm.”

    Would it, really?

    1. NM: Phebus apparently still has a pretty high quality of life (not chairbound and choking on his own drool yet). The principle means that physicians must take into account only the good of the individual patient. So I think in this case, killing Phebus for his organs would violate the principle.

      1. I really think harm in this context should be decided by the patient. Much like you have the right to not have a procedure performed that would correct a fatal problem, the inverse should also be true.

      2. Re: Ron Bailey,

        So I think in this case, killing Phebus for his organs would violate the principle.

        Depends on the organs. That’s why I posited the question. You’re right in that a physician cannot kill him if he pretends to extract very critical organs, even if that is his patient’s wish.

      3. I have no problem with an individual physician coming to the conclusion that the procedure violates his oath and causes harm and therefore declining to perform the procedure.

        I have a big problem with the gov’t deciding that Big Brother knows best what is ‘harm’ and what is ‘the good of the patient’ and therefore using force to prevent two consenting adults (Dr. & patient) from conducting an agreed upon procedure with a well understood consequence that does not involve the use of force on anyone outside the agreement.

        Is this not simply an extension of the same perverted thought that allows gov’t to regulate my smoking, drinking, or having a double bacon cheeseburger with a side of donuts?

  16. Do we own our own bodies? Did you notice the two “own’s”?
    If we do own our bodies, this is a no-brainer. Wait. He’s not donating his brain, is he?

  17. On the one hand, it is certainly wrong to take a vital organ, even if given voluntarily, from a healthy person.

    Since this is being done at his request, I’m going to need someone to explain to me why it is certainly wrong.

    On the other hand, Phebus is not healthy.

    What is the wrongness that is vitiated if he is not healthy? Help me out, here, Ron.

    In any case, harvesting organs from Phebus would violate the medical ethical principle: “First, do no harm.”

    I would say that the people who are denied his organs if we refuse his request are being harmed by our refusal.

    1. Since this is being done at his request, I’m going to need someone to explain to me why it is certainly wrong.

      Is it wrong for me to kill you even if you ask for it? I’m gonna go with “probably”. Dude’s still alive and if he wants to donate his organs now he should take care of making himself un-alive first.

  18. The ONLY people in Phebus way are the you-know-who…and they are NOT liberal.

  19. If you can’t do whatever you want with something, you don’t own it. It has to belong to someone else. As I carry my internal organs with me wherever I go, I think I should have the right to do with them as I see fit. If that includes giving them to others at the cost of my own life, so be it.

    If I can’t do that, who is it exactly that owns these organs who can exercise property rights over them and tell me I cannot give or sell them to someone else?

    1. All your organs are belong to us.

    2. You can do whatever you want with your organs now. That doesn’t mean you can force a doctor to remove them for you.

      1. Of course, but I don’t think finding a sympathetic doctor would be too difficult. The state would most likely have different ideas, though.

        1. The state made their point when they prosecuted Jack.

    3. If you can’t do whatever you want with something, you don’t own it.

      This is sloppy thinking. Ownership does not give you license to do whatever you want with something. I can own a gun…but I can’t justly use that gun to shoot passersby from my bedroom window. Ownership is more about having control over what others “can’t do” with your property than it is about what uses you can justly use that property for.

      See my comments below for a different take on the concept of “owning” your body.

      1. Your comment seems off point. This article is about a guy who wants to own his organs and end his life for an altruistic reason. I don’t see how that ties into an argument about somebody shooting people because they own a gun.

        1. It is a comment about what it means to own something. Ownership does not imply a just claim to any and all uses of the owned item. The right/wrongness adheres to the act, not the object.

          1. How about, Ownership implies the ability to dispose of the item. Or destroy it.

            The only limits would be if disposing or destroying it harms others (disposing or your bullets but shooting them out the window, for example).

            Not sure how disposing of his organs harms anyone other than himself.

            1. Again, the rightness or wrongness adhere’s to the act of disposing. Ownership of the object used in the act does not make the act right/moral/correct.

              Ownership limits YOUR ability to legitimately claim that you can dispose of his organs, not HIS ability to legitimately claim that he can dispose of his organs.

  20. RCD: I think Kant might apply: “Act so that you treat humanity, both in your own person and in that of another, always as an end and never merely as a means.”

    This case I think gets too uncomfortably close to treating Phebus as a means, not an end.
    But as I said upthread, I am open to being persuaded that I am wrong.

    1. Phebus wants to be treated as a means, Ron. That’s his choice.

      1. Re: Episiarch,

        Phebus wants to be treated as a means, Ron. That’s his choice.

        Correct. He cannot however make someone fulfill his wish.

    2. I’m frankly mystified as to what Kant is getting at in saying that you should never treat yourself as a means.

      If giving my organs to someone else is treating myself as a means, why isn’t donating my property also a means? What if I donate my time? What if I exchange my time for money, or food, or something else that I want? How are those activities not means to some end?

    3. Phebus wants to save the lives of others, that is a pretty good “end”.

  21. Yeah. This doesn’t seem to be a particularly difficult call for a libertarian.
    Of course, no doctor should be forced to cooperate with him, and even a recipient might think twice about accepting an organ under such conditions.

  22. Make sure his wishes for organ donation are fully legal and uncontestable by his relatives/survivors, walk into an ER and slit his own throat.

  23. my only concern is that he might be underestimating how much quality of life he has left.

    and therefore his consent might be mistaken.

    the informed part of informed consent is a tricky subject in bioethics. we usually get around it by minimizing the harm done to the subjects. Can’t really do that here.

    1. You aren’t free unless you are free to be wrong.

      1. After all, look at all the Reason staffers who voted for Obama…

      2. But ‘life’, and the freedom to be wrong there is a little different to the freedom to put the mortgage payment on Red. You can’t recover from a suicide decision, which is why absent extenuating medical circumstances (as this guy may have) I think suicide attempts are evidence of a compromised ability to make a free choice.

        Look at the fact that the vast majority of suicides occur on a Wednesday, because it’s furthest from the weekend. Or that in studies of people prevented from committing suicide, a small fraction went on to actually kill themselves later.

    2. Unless there’s a cure for ALS heading down the pike at mach 1, I think there’s a pretty narrow range of how much quality of life he has left and, regardless, it’s the quality of his life and this seems like a particularly poor instance for someone to substitute their opinion for his.

  24. At the peak of the baby boom (1957), there were 4,308,000 live births.

    http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0005067.html

    According to preliminary data, there were more than 4.3 million live births in the United States in 2007.

    http://mchb.hrsa.gov/whusa09/hstat/mh/pages/233lb.html

    So are we in another baby boom? And even if not?if we are now producing kids as fast as we did in 1957, then as the boomers die off over the next 20 years and these kids become working adults, won’t that have a positive effect on things like social security and Medicare come 2030?

  25. Quite simple; the organs are his property to dispose of as he see’s fit. The doctor can freely choose to abide the patient’s decision or not to, either way, it’s legit.

  26. Why should voluntary action ever be prohibited when it in no way hurts anyone else’s life, liberty, or property?

    If I were him, though, I’d seek plenty of opinions confirming my remaining time. But he should also be free to not consult additional opinions if he so chooses.

    1. “”Why should voluntary action ever be prohibited when it in no way hurts anyone else’s life, liberty, or property?””

      I agree. But the answer seems to be morality.

      1. And therefore non-violent and non-coercive immorality (which is, of course, subjective) should be legislated against?

  27. Full disclosure – I’m one of those radicals who think that a person has full ownership of his/her own body.

    I think the dualism inherent in the logical construction makes it a fairly useless idea in application. A person does not OWN their body or their life…they ARE their body and their life. A person does not have a right to life and liberty because they OWN their body. They have a right to ownership because they are alive and free.

    1. Re: Neu Mejican,

      I think the dualism inherent in the logical construction makes it a fairly useless idea in application. A person does not OWN their body or their life…they ARE their body and their life.

      So a person that loses a limb becomes less of a person.

      No?

      I told you – be careful not to commit perfunctory contradictions.

      1. So a person that loses a limb becomes less of a person.

        No?

        No.

        I told you – be careful not to commit perfunctory contradictions.

        Yes, you said that while failing to recognize the same in your own positions.

    2. Re: Neu Mejican,

      A person does not OWN their body or their life…they ARE their body and their life.

      That leaves the door open for ownership by another.

      They have a right to ownership because they are alive and free.

      That leaves the door open for stripping a person of property by taking his or her freedom.

      “Well, he ain’t free no more, is he?”

      This is why the self-ownership principle is cogent.

      1. Re: Neu Mejican,

        NM: A person does not OWN their body or their life…they ARE their body and their life.

        OM: That leaves the door open for ownership by another.

        Reply–Nope. Their inalienable freedom precludes that.

        NM: They have a right to ownership because they are alive and free.

        OM: That leaves the door open for stripping a person of property by taking his or her freedom.

        “Well, he ain’t free no more, is he?”

        Nope. Again, freedom/liberty is the inherent/inalienable state that goes with being a living human. You can’t take it away from them. It does, however, result in a much different view of property rights than, I am sure, you would advocate. It leads to rights being seen as a property of acts (as in “acting with your rights” or “you have the right to do XXX”) rather than as a “thing” that you possess. In practice this is much closer to how rights work. Rights are claimed to justify acts that flow from our freedom. You are free to act however you wish, but you must justify your acts when they infringe upon others. Rights are a mechanism that helps to resolve these conflicts.

        This is why the self-ownership principle is cogent.
        reply to this

        1. oops…hit submit too soon,

          This is why the self-ownership principle is cogent

          Self-ownership is oxymoronic, not cogent. Indeed, if my freedoms depend upon ownership, they are vulnerable to others making claim to that ownership. If I can own them, then I can sell them, or they can be stolen.

          If, on the other hand, freedom is the inalienable state of being of a living human, no ownership claim can be made to one’s body/freedom.

          1. And just to be pedantic: that last sentence should read…

            No right or just ownership claim can be made regarding one’s body/freedom. Anyone is free to make the claim, but there is no way to own someone’s body or freedom, so it is a meaningless claim.

            1. And just to be pedantic:

              You don’t need to amp it up, you were already doing a remarkable job of being pedantic.

              1. It’s what I do.

                1. You’re good at it!

  28. History have shown heroic people doing selfless acts that they know would kill them. How is a decision like this any different than a soldier jumping on a grenade to save his comrades any different. If you don’t own your body or life, than that means the somebody else does.

  29. Hypothetical situation. Suppose this man walks into a hospital that has an excellent reputation for successful transplant surgeries. He is carrying a pistol and a note. The note explicitly states that he wishes any healthy organs he has should be used to help patients of his blood type and RH factor who need them. He kills himself and is careful to do so in such a way as to not endanger others. What do you do with his organs? Do you let them go to waste or do as his note suggests?

    Wouldn’t it have been better to do what he wanted BEFORE he went to the trouble of shooting himself in the head?

  30. Wouldn’t it have been better to do what he wanted BEFORE he went to the trouble of shooting himself in the head?

    No

    1. What do you do with his organs? Do you let them go to waste or do as his note suggests?

      Why would anyone let them to go to waste?

    2. Why? If he WANTS to have the removed before? Why not? It would be less messey for everyone involved.

      1. There is a profound moral difference between killing yourself and getting someone else to do it.

        1. So you wish to impose your values upon this suffering and generous person?

          1. Yeah, I’m imposing my “thou shalt not kill” morals on everybody else. I don’t care how wrong you think it is, I won’t do it.

            1. Translated from the original Hebrew, it’s actually “You shall not murder.” And this isn’t murder.

              1. Well stated, this is not murder any more than my donation of blood to the American Red Cross is theft.

  31. He could just have Micheal Moore fly him and his family to Cuba, give them a great holiday to say goodbye to each other, have the Cuban hospital kill him and harvest the organs, and use them for Cubans.

    Moore could make another award winning documentary about it.

    1. I wonder why Moore doesn’t move to Cuba? I am sure he would be welcome there and he seems to aprove of their economic system.

  32. I thought I heard my name? Hello?

  33. Wait. If I am alive and my organs are an integral part of me, are they property? Sure, after I cease to be they are, but if my vitals could be owned/sold, would I not be able to sell myself as chattel? And once sold, I could be resold.

    1. I concur…see above.

  34. would I not be able to sell myself as chattel?

    Assuming you are an adult of sound mind I unequivocally support your right to sell (or give) yourself and/or your labor in perpetuity to anyone for any reason.

    1. That is a distinct concept from transferring ownership to another person. If at any point one changed their mind after “selling themselves in perpetuity” to another, and decided to nullify the contract, what means would you support for the “owner’s” using to enforce the contract?

      1. And the transfer through resale mentioned by Brett is important. Do you really think I would have no say if the “owner” decided to resell me. Inherent in the contact you posit would be my consent. If I did not consent to the resale…what mechanisms would be valid for enforcing the new owner’s ownership?

        The reason these issue come up is because humans are not a class of objects that can be owned precisely because liberty is inalienable.

        1. This is an academic conversation because such a contract would be considered unconscionable. I am suggesting that where consent exists between a willing buyer and seller the state has no role in interfering in the transaction. The purpose of creating a contract would be to indemnify the person to whom you “sold” yourself.

          If at any point one changed their mind…and decided to nullify the contract, what means would you support for the “owner’s” using to enforce the contract?

          IANAL but I would give them the same rights that exist for other contracts. If I sold you myself for cash and wished to void the contract the least you could expect is your money back.

          If I did not consent to the resale…what mechanisms would be valid for enforcing the new owner’s ownership?

          That could easily be addressed in the initial covenant. I could specify that I was selling myself to only you and you did not have the right to re-sell me. Such conditions exist on other transfers of ownership. I could inherit property and still have enforceable restrictions on what I can do with it.

          1. That’s true under current jurisprudence, but utter irrelevant. Notice where swillfredo pareto starts?

            […]I unequivocally support your right to sell (or give) yourself and/or your labor in perpetuity to anyone for any reason

            It is a statement about how things should (in the author’s opinion) be, and accordingly presupposes whatever changes are necessary to accommodate it.

            I’m not sure I agree with it, but you can’t argue against it because things would have to change before it could happen…

  35. For the sake of having a point of reference if others respond to these points:

    in?al?ien?a?ble?adjective: not alienable; not transferable to another or capable of being repudiated: inalienable rights.

    I certainly can’t transfer my life to another. Likewise I can’t transfer my liberty to another. They are part of me…they are inherent, essential elements of being human.

    The idea of ownership requires that the owner can transfer ownership to another. Otherwise it is meaningless. This is why self-ownership is a weak basis upon which to build your arguments for “rights.”

    1. But you can transfer your property to another. Are his lungs his property? How about his heart? How about his liver?

      And if he can sell property why not donate it?

    2. “Likewise I can’t transfer my liberty to another.”

      Why not? In a libertarian world one should be permitted to sell themselves into “slavery.” You only lose your liberty if you lose it against your will.

      1. PIRS,

        Because liberty is inalienable. It is simply not possible to transfer it to someone else. At each moment you make a choice you are exercising it.

        1. Neu Mejican. I think we are bogged down by language here. I would not call this “slavery”. If what you are doing is of your own free will you are not a slave. That is a bad term for this concept. This is a voluntary contract with a REALLY LONG term. How about marriage? Marriage is a contract and “in theory” it is for “until death do us part”.

          1. PIRS,

            The point is that you are not, in the situation you posit, transferring “ownership” of yourself to someone else. You are making an agreement about future acts. But the “self-ownership” concept implies that you could transfer ownership to another person…it implies that yourself and your liberty are alienable. My point is that conceptualizing rights as based on self-ownership (as Old Mexican does above) provides a weak basis for building a system of rights as ownership implies that liberty is a commodity that can be bought, sold, or stolen. But liberty is an inalienable property of humans, so no contract can transfer it from one owner to another. It can’t be owned. One person can restrict the actions of another through force, but at no point can they possess the others “freedom.” Similarly, I can kill you, but I can’t possess your life.

            1. note: it was J sub D that first brought it up in this thread, but OM that attempted to defend it as a cogent concept when I challenged the idea.

            2. Saying that a person cannot choose to be a slave is a violation of that person’s liberty, not the choice itself.

              1. heller,

                Ok. But I am saying that liberty is inalienable. You can desire to give up your liberty, but it is not possible. It is inalienable. In your scenario, at each moment you choose to stay a slave, you are exercising your liberty through the act of following through on your freely made choice.

                That makes my head hurt.

                The point is…that the “owner” of a slave has no valid/actual claim to that slave’s freedom. The slave can’t actually transfer that which is inalienable. Even if they want to. They don’t OWN themselves, or their liberty. Self-ownership is an oxymoron.

                1. “The slave can’t actually transfer that which is inalienable. Even if they want to. They don’t OWN themselves, or their liberty. Self-ownership is an oxymoron.”

                  But he clearly can if he can make himself a slave. You’ve already agreed with me, now you’re just arguing semantics.

                  If a person can indeed make himself a slave, then surely he can parcel out his body however he wishes. Whether or not we should call this self ownership or property seems to be a matter of opinion, and i don’t concede that is an oxymoron.

                  1. now you’re just arguing semantics

                    Actually, we are arguing semantics. But the difference in semantics leads to a different result when you apply it to the concept of rights. If your liberty/life/rights are based on the concept of self-ownership, then they are conceptualized as objects, things that you possess, that can be taken from you, sold, etc…

                    If, instead, your life/liberty are properties of YOU, not possessions, then “rights” are not conceptualized as objects that you possess. Instead, they are attributes of your acts. They justify the exercise of your freedom when your acts impact other people. Basing rights in freedom, rather than ownership changes the whole game. It is a substantive difference in terms of what role “rights” play in moral questions. In my view, the difference is between a coherent approach to conflicts and an incoherent approach.

                    1. i don’t concede that is an oxymoron.

                      It is an oxymoron with or without your concession. An oxymoron is a figure of speech that combines normally contradictory terms and describes something paradoxical. Since ownership is at its root defines a legal/moral relationship between two separate things (owner and possession), the concept of a single self owning the same self is a paradoxical use of the concept, just as it would be oxymoronic to posit other relationships BETWEEN the self and the self. (He’s bigger than himself, she beat herself to the punch, etc…)

                    2. “Since ownership is at its root defines a legal/moral relationship between two separate things (owner and possession), the concept of a single self owning the same self is a paradoxical use of the concept, just as it would be oxymoronic to posit other relationships BETWEEN the self and the self. (He’s bigger than himself, she beat herself to the punch, etc…)”

                      It’s only an oxymoron if you think self ownership is “the body owning the body.” Self ownership is the entity owning the body.” It’s only an oxymoron to those who can’t see the difference between the body and the entity. The entity is housed in the brain. The rest of the body is simply tools that the entity uses. The brain and the other organs are property of the entity.

                    3. to those who can’t see the difference between the body and the entity

                      That is my point, of course. The false duality you are positing between the self and the body is at the root of the problem. You are saying, what? The soul owns the body?

                    4. I never said soul. I said conciousness. The entity/conciousness owns the body.

                      You are falsely conflating the body with the conciosuness.

                    5. Wrong. You are positing a false dualism. Descartes’ error, if you want.

                      Consciousness is a property of a functioning body. It is a physical process. Not some metaphysical owner of the body.

                      The way you have framed it consciousness = soul.

                    6. “If your liberty/life/rights are based on the concept of self-ownership, then they are conceptualized as objects, things that you possess, that can be taken from you, sold, etc…”

                      I don’t know why you are talking about transferring rights. We are talking about transferring body parts. In order to act freely in transferring a body part, one must first own that body part. You have the right to act freely before ownership of your body, but in order to use that right with your body, you must own it.

                      I never claimed that rights are possessions or that we own rights. You are confusing rights with body parts.

                    7. I am talking about where the justification for his freedom to do this comes from. Self-ownership is a weak foundation for that freedom…for the reasons already mentioned. I was responding to a specific argument that said he had the right to do this BECAUSE of “self-ownership.”

                    8. But you interpreted that arhument badly. He has the right to transfer his body parts because he owns them, not that he has the right to ac freely because he owns his body.

                    9. You can read here a more fully developed discussion of the role that self-ownership plays in libertarian philosphy.

                      http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/libertarianism/#1

                      Lots of others have pointed out the logical flaws inherent in the concept and the articles cites some of them. The idea of voluntary enslavement (talk about your oxymorons) that is directly implicated by “self-ownership” was already brought up in this thread. When you are building up a moral framework and an axiom leads to such absurdities, you need to rethink the axiom.

                      It is not a useful concept. Not necessary for building a working system of rights.

  36. Our organs are not inherent to our persons. If one were to replace a heart or a lung would they not still be the same identity? It seems to me that our identities are solely made up of our consciousness. The rest, the physical parts, are simply pieces of property that we can use, replace, sell, and give away freely.

    1. Our organs aren’t inherent to our person? Maybe not essential, depending upon the organ, but…

      For the record, I think this guy has the right to do what he wishes. But that is NOT because he “owns” himself. He has the right because he is free to act. There is no need to invoke ownership in the discussion.

      1. Of course there is a need. If we don’t own our organs, then they can be controlled by others.

        Let me put it another way: Does your heart have rights? Does your arm have rights? Does your body have rights? No, only you, the singular entity/identity, has rights. The rest of you must be owned in order for you to claim sole control over your body.

        1. Sorry, but that is begging the question.

          By conceptualizing your body as separate from YOU, you are falling into a dualism that is unnecessary and counter productive. The idea that you body is property, that it is something that CAN be owned means that ownership can be transferred to another. Ownership implies something that is ALIENABLE. As such, it is a poor foundation for human rights. Life and liberty are inalienable. They can not be owned. They can not be transferred from one owner to another. You control your body not because you own it, but because you are free to act. Liberty is freedom to act. Ownership does not come into the picture.

          1. Your rights are not “transferrable,” but that doesn’t mean your body parts aren’t. If your organs are not your property, then what are they?

            Saying that rights aren’t derived from ownership of the body is vague. We have the right to act freely, yet in order to act freely with a material thing one must first own that thing.

            I don’t understand why you think body parts are not property, if we can indeed do with them what we want. In order to sell or give away a material thing you must first own it.

        2. Does your heart have rights? Does your arm have rights? Does your body have rights? No, only you, the singular entity/identity, has rights.

          Heart/Arm while attached to YOU, yes. Body while functioning as YOU, yes.
          Singular entity/identity somehow distinct from your body? No.

          Thought experiment. You use Star Trek transporter to create exact duplicate of yourself, complete with functioning and conscious brain. Do you own it? Is it you? Do you have the right to kill it?

          1. “Heart/Arm while attached to YOU, yes.”

            Really? What rights does the heart claim?

            “Singular entity/identity somehow distinct from your body? No.”

            Of course your identity is distinct from your body! If your conciousness was housed in some different body would people call you by the name of the body or the name of the conciousness?

            “Thought experiment. You use Star Trek transporter to create exact duplicate of yourself, complete with functioning and conscious brain. Do you own it? Is it you? Do you have the right to kill it?”

            No you do not own it. It is a seperate entity that is merely a copy of you. As a seperate entity, it enjoys the same rights that you do.

            1. So if it is a separate entity, what make that true? The exact consciousness…the pattern of information you are saying you would transfer into another machine is, at the moment it is copied, the same in the new version of you. Why does this new copy not count as you as well. It is because the new entity is a body with properties that we recognize as alive and free. When you transfer your “entity” to a new body (taking it away from your body) people would not refer to your body as “you” because it would no longer be alive a free (aka brain dead).

              1. No, it is because they are two separate conciousness. There are two of them. They are separate, not shared.

                “When you transfer your “entity” to a new body (taking it away from your body) people would not refer to your body as “you” because it would no longer be alive a free (aka brain dead).”

                Also wrong. The reason we wouldn’t refer to my body as me is because I am in a different body.

                1. No, it is because they are two separate conciousness. There are two of them. They are separate, not shared.

                  How have you determined that? What keeps them separate? It seems it is the fact that they are integrated into separate bodies. Integrated completely. Now experiencing new things from a different physical perspective.

                  The reason we wouldn’t refer to my body as me is because I am in a different body.

                  I disagree. The “you” we would be referring to is the integrated being. It does not exist until it is integrated. If you were able to “disintegrate” your consciousness, leaving the body brain dead, and “reintegrate” your consciousness into a new body, “you” wouldn’t exist until you were reintegrated.

                  But now we are straying too far afield as this issue of identify is separate from the issue at hand. Your life and liberty, if portable between bodies would still be integrated into the new body. There is no sense in which it would make you “own yourself.” The analogy of a computer and software is metaphoric. In reality the “entity” you are positing is just a descriptor for the functioning of the hardware. It does not “own” the machine it is a property of the machine.

                2. Another thought experiment that makes this clearer, perhaps.

                  Assume that we have infinite medical ability and can turn off your body’s function and then restore it to perfect functioning at some later time.

                  So, we stop the functioning of all of your body’s cells. Is the “entity” that you are claiming owns your body present while your body is not functioning?

                  Now we restore your body’s functioning. Every cell starts functioning just as it was prior to the procedure. Now “you” are back. Did you “retake possession” of your body? If so, where was this entity while your body was not functioning?

  37. People sell me their souls everyday so why not their organs? I figure it is their right to do so. (Diabolical Laugh)

    1. “People sell me their souls everyday”

      Too bad there is no such thing as a soul. You got scammed.

  38. There is something people seem to be forgetting here. A donated organ must first be tissue-typed, and then the news must be sent around the transplant network in search of people who match it. Then the organ has to get there.

    I agree it might feel ghoulish, but if they could get donor and recipient together ahead of time, the organs would be fresher and the chance of transplant success higher.

  39. Can someone explain to me how a nation that allows women to abort, because they have the right to choose, has a problem with this? There shouldn’t even be a debate as long as abortion is legal.

  40. Mr. Bailey, there is no coercion at work here. If we pretend for a moment that government is in any way legitimate, it should at least limit itself to preventing coercion. Who are you people, or who is the government for that matter, to interfere? Mind your own damn business.

  41. Let’s try a slightly different version:

    Rather than being stricken with a terminal disease, assume Mr. Phebus is a passenger on an airplane. Several young men, armed with knives, commandeer the plane and state their intention to use it to kill others.

    The “others” are in the same moral state as the would-be organ recipients: about to die of means beyond their control. Mr. Phebus is in the same position: he is under a death sentence due to circumstances beyond his control, he has the opportunity to prevent the death of the “others,” and he is of sound mind, able to act rationally.

    Should Mr. Phebus be allowed to end his life in a smoking crater in a Pennsylvania field, or must he preserve that life until he crashes into the stadium where the Superbowl is being played?

    (Bonus fun question: does Mr. Phebus have the right to take action on behalf of the 150 other people on the airplane?)

  42. More valuable to whom TAO? You’re starting to sound a lot like the resident liberals here.

  43. It doesn’t necessarily violate the do no harm oath. He is going to die a horrible death, why not let him do what he wants to do and help end his pain? Doing that would not be harming him. Harm implies they injured or damaged him, or did something to make his condition worse, but if he asked them to do this then there was no harm done. Anyways, there are more in depth arguments as to why such a thing doesn’t violate the oath, but its not like most doctors take their oath seriously anymore. Try being a pain patient that needs adequate relief.

    1. First do no harm (Primum non nocere) only applies to acts of commission and it implicitly encourages restraint in uncertain situations (as in “is this patient scamming me and will I go to jail if I refill this prescription for the umpteenth time”).

  44. A response on another blog:

    Ronald Bailey, over at Hit & Run, asks, “Should a person who is dying of an incurable illness be allowed to donate his organs before the disease kills him?” This strikes me as a very odd question to ask, especially given who is doing the asking. Hit & Run is the blog for Reason Magazine, a publication I have been led to believe has some libertarian bent. Yet, oddly, it seems they are still mulling over the most fundamental principle of libertarianism: self-ownership…

    read the rest here:
    http://www.libertarianstandard…..donations/

    1. Most of the commenters here are also puzzled by this…

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.