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The Transplant Case in Real Life

Philosophers have long debated about the moral permissibility of Transplant Cases such as the following one presented by Philippa Foot:

A brilliant transplant surgeon has five patients, each in need of a different organ, each of whom will die without that organ. Unfortunately, there are no organs available to perform any of these five transplant operations. A healthy young traveler, just passing through the city the doctor works in, comes in for a routine checkup. In the course of doing the checkup, the doctor discovers that his organs are compatible with all five of his dying patients. Suppose further that if the young man were to disappear, no-one would suspect the doctor.

Most people believe that it is not permissible for the doctor to murder this patient and harvest his organs, although a few consequentialists, e.g. Alastair Norcross, have argued that it might be acceptable under certain circumstances.

In a possible real-life version of the Transplant Case, the New York Times reported recently that Dr. Hootan C. Roozrokh, a transplant surgeon from Stanford, is being charged with ordering the removal of a life-supporting ventilator and prescribing excessive and improper doses of drugs, apparently in an attempt to hasten the death of a disabled and brain damaged man named Ruben Navarro in order to retrieve his organs sooner. 

According to the New York Times, "by most accounts, Mr. Navarro, 25, was near death." Also, apparently, after being informed of her son’s condition, Mr. Navarro’s mother had agreed to donate her son’s organs, saying she did not want him “to suffer too long.”

Suppose that Dr. Roozrokh did intend to hasten the death of Mr. Navarro in order to obtain his organs, setting aside legal permissibility, did Dr. Roozrokh act in a morally permissible manner?

On the one hand, this case differs from Foot’s Transplant Case in that Mr. Navarro is not healthy and is "near death."  Also, Mr. Navarro’s mother had given consent for his organs to be harvested.  So consequentialists who believe that it is morally permissible for the doctor in the Transplant Case to kill an innocent healthy individual without consent in order to harvest his organs should find this case to be an easier case.

On the other hand, presumably, Ms. Navarro did not agree to *hasten* her son’s death in order that his organs can be harvested.  As she said after finding out what had happened: “He didn’t deserve to be like that, to go that way . . . He died without dignity and sympathy and without respect.” As it happened, the doctors were unsuccessful in harvesting Mr. Navarro’s organs.  Would it have made it more morally permissible if they had been able to do it successfully by hastening Mr. Navarro’s death? 

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