December 4, 2022

Should we be able to inherit organs?

A little-known debate in bioethics circles centres on whether we should be able to inherit organs.

A little-known debate in bioethics circles centres on whether we should be able to inherit organs. Some bioethicists argue that the arguments for organ markets also work in making organs inheritable property. In a recent Journal of Medical Ethics article, bioethicists Teck Chuan Voo and Soren Holm (a former editor of the JME) assert that “organs should be inheritable if they were to be socially and legally recognised as tradable property”. 

The pair base their claim on the fact that “…legal recognition of objects as property… opens up the possibility of the legal recognition of the survival of the property rights and their inheritability after the death of the source/owner”.

They provide a consequentialist justification for allowing organs to be inherited: “It increases a person’s freedom and control over their organs, and it increases transfers of transplantable organs to people who need them.”

Others disagree, arguing that autonomy is not at issue when dealing with a person’s bequests. In a reply to Teck and Holm, bioethicist James S. Taylor wrote that “a person’s autonomy does not impose a duty on others to comply with her wishes; it just imposes a prima facie duty upon them to refrain from attempting to control over her.” 

Xavier Symons
Creative commons
organ donation
organ markets