Seminar: Adrian Walsh, "Human Organ Sales as a Distinctive Moral Hazard"

Past Event

24 February 2010, 3:00pm - 5:00pm

Lecture Theatre, Oxford Martin School
34 Broad Street (corner of Holywell and Catte Streets), Oxford, OX1 3BD

Abstract: In a great many Western countries the sale of human organs is prohibited. One prominent justificatory ground for blocking such exchanges is the “Commodification Objection’. The key idea here is that commercialising human organs leads us to regard those who sell their organs as mere commodities. This is typically explicated in Kantian terms via the price-dignity dictum according to which price and dignity are mutually exclusive.

Recently a number of philosophers have rejected this objection on the grounds (i) that there is no entailment or necessary connection between commercialising something and regarding it instrumentally; (ii) that such instrumental attitudes arise in contexts other than the commercial realm and (iii) that human organs themselves are not morally considerable and thus concerns about how we should or should not regard them cannot be derived from our putative obligations to persons.

In this paper I defend a modified version of the Commodification Objection. I argue that: i) moral significance does not require that an undesirable outcome be a necessary consequence of the practice under examination: ii) the relative likelihood of an undesirable mode of regard arising provides a morally-relevant distinguishing marker for assessing the comparative moral status of various social institutions and arrangements; iii) sales in human organs are sufficiently distinct from sales of everyday artefacts and sufficiently close to personhood to personhood to provide genuine grounds for concern. In pursuing this line of argument I will also explore in some detail the idea of a moral hazard as an ethically-useful category.

Adrian Walsh is Associate Professor in Philosophy at the University of New England in Australia. He writes mainly in the areas of political philosophy and applied ethics. His most recent work is "The Morality of Money" (written with Tony Lynch), published in 2008.