Is it wrong to use executed prisoners’ organs to treat patients?

China will phase out using executed prisoners as organ ‘donors’ in the next five years, the Guardian reports today.

It would be interesting to see what the policy reasons behind this move are (undoubtedly much too complex a political and cultural context for me to completely appreciate).

There are, in my view, persuasive moral and legal arguments for post mortem organ conscription, or at least for the taking of organs in the teeth of inter vivos dissent: in individual cases where a recipient is individually identifiable and her life clearly depends on the transplant. There seems to me, at first glance, no significant difference between overriding the wishes of a free non-donor post mortem on the basis of necessity and overriding an inmate’s wishes in the same situation (apart from possibly adding insult to injury, or vice versa actually). In both cases, the individual’s prior autonomy counts for nothing in relation to this decision, so it doesn’t seem to be relevant whether the individual was given sufficient space to exercise autonomy.

The added ingredients that make it worth differentiating might be a (justified) opposition against the death penalty and fear that the death penalty might be deployed as a means to an end, the end being the availability of the purported delinquent’s organs. The former I endorse, though I fail to see the connection to organ donation. The latter I haven’t found convincing evidence for yet (any pointers or corrections gratefully received).

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